Papaya is also called papaw, and it’s a flowering plant. Different types of papaya fall into the Caricaceae family from the Carica genus. It’s native to the southern portion of Mexico and Central America, and these trees typically grow in more tropical planting zones and get cultivated in the warmest areas on earth. The papaya was once a rare and exotic fruit, but it’s now very popular throughout the culinary world. It has a pretty coloring with a slightly sweet taste, and there are several health benefits attached to eating it regularly. It’s a great source of minerals, fiber, and vitamin C. Additionally, it’s a low-fat and low-calorie fruit.
Most types of papaya come with a yellowish, soft flesh. It’s very popular in several countries, and it is a very common ingredient in pies, salads, smoothies, and more. It’s also possible to cook unripe types of papaya. Most of the papaya that you’ll find in the supermarket come from Hawaii, but India currently holds the title of producing the most papaya varieties in the world. We’re going to go over the various popular types of papaya, how to use them, how to grow them, and more below.
Papaya is normally a relatively sweet tropical fruit that can be anywhere from under a pound to up to 10 pounds per fruit. Papaya by ~jar[} / CC BY 2.0
The Caribbean natives came up with the name papaya, even though the islands aren’t where this tropical fruit originated. The tropical plant has strong ties to Central America, and it was first introduced to the Caribbean islands by European sailors who picked this fruit up in the Americas and took the fruit back with them on their ships as they went to explore.
If there ever was a fruit that worshiped the sun, different types of papaya are it. The plant has a very high sensitivity to frost, even though you can now find it grown in Florida, Texas, Southeast Asia, and Southern California. This is a more finicky fruit to grow, but it’s also fairly unique when you look at it.
The fruit will grow in three sexes, including female, male, and hermaphrodite. The males can’t produce fruit, but they produce pollen. The females will produce smaller fruits, but they’re usually indelible. The third type of papaya will make the produce stand out and grow to decent sizes.
Papayas are also one plant with three colors. They come in green, yellow, and red coloring. However, inside of those broad categories, the fruit will multiply. This leaves more than 10 types of papayas currently available. Each variety comes with its own special qualities and flavor, and we’ll touch on some of the most popular ones below.
11 Types of Papaya
We mentioned that there are over 20 types of papaya on the market, but some are much more rare than others. As this is a tropical plant, it also has specific growing conditions to consider. The following are 13 types of papaya you can typically find in your local market:
1. Bettina Papaya
This is a much larger type of papaya that you find growing throughout Queensland in Australia. It’s a very heavy papaya that can get up to an impressive five pounds per fruit at full maturity, and it has a very sweet taste.
2. Coorg Honey Dew
This is an oblong-shaped type of papaya fruit that has a thicker flesh to it with a pretty greenish-yellow coloring. It is a very popular Honey Dew selection called Madhu Bindu, and this particular cultivar is native to India.
3. Guinea Gold Papaya
This type of papaya comes from Western Australia, and it’s a slightly smaller fruit. When it’s ready to harvest, the fruits will have a pretty bright yellow flesh and usually weigh in around two pounds.
4. Hawaiian Sunrise or Sunset Papayas
The Sunrise type of papaya is grown primarily in Kauai, and the fruit usually weighs just over a pound each. It has a very stunning reddish-orange flesh and skin, and this is where it gets the name. It’s also extremely sweet. There is a very shallow seed cavity in each fruit, and this makes stripping out the seeds before you eat it much easier than with other types of papaya.
You may hear people refer to this type of papaya as the Strawberry papaya because the skin will show small freckles as it starts to ripen, and it is one of the sweetest papaya options you can buy. The flavor profile is very similar to peaches, berries, or melon, and it’s available all year-round. When you eat it, you get a decent dose of vitamins A, C, E, K, and beta-carotene. It’s an extremely versatile fruit, and you can use it diced in your salads or use the juice as a marinade.
It is small to medium-sized at full maturity, and this is actually a dwarf variety that usually produces a higher amount of fruits. The University of Hawaii created it. Sunset papayas are usually slightly smaller than Sunrise varieties, and the skin coloring is brighter. Also, Sunset papayas have an extremely uniform shape and color, and they come with a longer shelf life.
This is some of the brightest and sweetest papaya available, and they come packed with helpful vitamins and minerals. Papaya by Edgar Zuniga Jr / CC BY 2.0
5. Hortus Gold Papaya
Originally from South Africa, this type of papaya is slightly heavier. At full maturity, it can weigh up to three pounds. When you cut into it, you’ll see a very striking yellow flesh tone, and this is where the name comes from.
6. Kamiya Papaya
This is another dwarf type of papaya that the University of Hawaii developed, and it has a very sweet taste with an orangish-yellow flesh. There was a specific plant virus that was threatening how viable papayas were around the world, so the University of Hawaii created a more disease-resistant papaya type in response. However, this papaya is also very tasty as it has a high sugar content, smooth, soft orange flesh, and a very sweet citrus smell.
7. Kapoho Papaya
These types of papayas can weigh in at roughly two pounds at full maturity, and they feature a bright yellow coloring. You’ll find them growing in Hawaii’s Puna district, and this is where around 90% of all of the papayas in Hawaii are grown. This is actually the most growing papaya in Hawaii out of all of the available varieties, and they make up 90% of the total papaya market there. They have a fun green-and-yellow speckled outer layer with a very sweet yellow flesh, and this lends to their popularity.
6. Mexican Red and Yellow Papayas
Generally speaking, Mexican types of papaya are always on the larger size, and it’s not uncommon for them to be up to 10 pounds each. The red varieties offer a rose-colored flesh and a very sweet taste to them, but they’re never going to be as sweet as the ones you see growing in Hawaii. The yellow papaya come with a yellow coloring in the flesh, and they’re a little sweeter than the Mexican red varieties. However, they also fall short of being as sweet as Hawaii’s papayas.
As they get more ripe, these types of papayas tend to turn green. They also have seeds that are non-edible, and you have to remove them before you eat the fruit. You can find them all year round, and they can reach up to 15 pounds. However, it’s much easier to find them between one and two pounds and 6 to 12 inches in diameter.
You’ll get several nutrients when you eat this fruit, just like you would bananas. They contain decent amounts of potassium, calcium, vitamins C and A, and fiber. This allows them to help with digestion, and they also contain an enzyme called papain. They are one of the fastest-growing tropical plants you can get today.
7. Oak Leaved Papaya
If you’re looking for a unique coloring to your type of papaya, this is a South American cultivare that may fit the bill. On the outside, this variety looks a lot like an acorn squash with a green and gold striped pattern. When you cut it open, this papaya has edible seeds with a sweet orange flesh coloring.
8. Peterson Papaya
This type of papaya also comes from Australia, and it falls right into the green end for coloring. However, when you open it, the flesh is a very dark, deep orange. This is one of the best smelling and sweetest papaya types in the world at the moment.
9. Samba Papaya
One of the newest types of papaya on the market is the Samba Papaya. This one offers a very fun pattern on the skin that is usually yellow with darker green spots. The interior layer is a darker orange coloring, and the flesh is much more pulpy than it is juice. The flavor profile is much more tangy than sweet too.
10. Sunnybank Papaya
Hailing from Western Australia, this type of papaya is a smaller variety that has a sunny yellow flesh. At full maturity, it will usually only weigh around a pound.
11. Waimanalo Papaya
This is a Hawaiian type of papaya that is notable for several reasons. First, it’s a dwarf variety that is one of the smallest papayas available. However, what it lacks in size it makes up for in speed. This tree can bear fruit as early as nine months. It’s a darker green cultivar that has a pretty orange flesh coloring with a sweet flavor profile.
How to Use Papaya
You can use the papaya fruit in savory or sweet dishes, with the exception of the green papaya. It’s also good cooked or raw. It makes a delicious additive to sorbet, ice cream, salsa, fruit salad, and smoothies. If you shred green types of papaya, you can add it to a tangy dressing.
Basic Papaya Prep
Start by cutting your papaya in half lengthwise before scooping out the seeds. You can use most seeds as a peppery garish or add them to a salad dressing. You can peel the papaya using a paring knife or a vegetable peeler too. Dice or cut the papaya into strips as needed. It’s also possible to leave the halves unpeeled and serve them with a spoon to scoop out the flesh. Green varieties of papaya usually get peeled and shredded.
No matter how you choose to use your type of papaya, the process usually starts by slicing it in half and cleaning out the seeds before dicing it. Papaya by Tuluum / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Southeast Asian Green Papaya Salad
One nice way to get papaya into your dish is to order a Southeast Asian Green Papaya Salad. It’s especially popular in Thai cuisine. However, if you order it at a Thai restaurant, you want to make sure that it doesn’t have any fish sauce included.
Shredded Peeled Green Papaya
To create a dressing, combine three tablespoons of granulated sugar, four to five tablespoons of fresh lime juice, and ½ minced serrano chile. Toss all of the ingredients together and top it with chopped peanuts and minced cilantro.
This super-easy breakfast involves cutting a papaya in half lengthwise and scooping out the seeds. Fill the cavity that is left with your favorite cereal and milk before giving it a small sprinkle of cinnamon.
Papaya Mint Salad Dressing
You can use this tangy dressing in fruit salads or green salads. If you’re going to use a type of papaya in a fruit salad, reserve some of the seeds and add it last. The seeds will lend a peppery taste to the dish, and you can wash them, drain them, and use them as a garnish. You combine ½ medium ripe papaya of your choosing with ½ cup of papaya nectar, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, and mint leaves into a blender. Process it until it’s smooth and transfer it to a bottle. Refrigerate it until you’re ready to use it, and use it within two days.
All you have to do is cut your papaya in half and scoop out the seeds to begin with. Add a sprinkle of brown sugar and ginger before wrapping the papaya in foil and popping them into the oven at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes. When you pull them out and unwrap them, add a dash of cayenne pepper and a small squeeze of lemon juice before serving.
Adding a few chunks of seeded papaya to your favorite smoothie blends is a great way to boost your vitamin intake. You can combine in with bananas, berries, and greens. Blend it until smooth and make sure it’s the consistency you like.
Growing Papaya From Seed
Papaya seeds usually have a very peppery taste to them, but they work well for garnishes. Growing papaya from seed is the quickest way to accomplish it. Papaya by Ted Major / CC BY-SA 2.0
If you want to try adding papaya to your fruit garden, you’ll find that they’re relatively easy to grow if you live in a warmer climate. They’re usually very quick to fruit, and they can produce fruit all year-round in warmer areas. You can use them green and ripe, and they’re an excellent way to attract birds to the garden. They’re also very fast-growing shade trees.
To start, you can go out and buy papaya seeds from the local garden center, but you’ll get the best plants if you use seeds from any locally-growing papaya fruit. All you have to do to get the seeds is cut a papaya in half, scrape out the seeds, and allow them to dry after you give them a quick rinse. This will give you more than enough papaya seeds to start your garden with.
In warmer climates, find a sheltered and sunny place in your garden. You won’t start them in pots, unlike most plants. They also don’t transplant well. Anything that will disturb your plant’s roots will set them back. So, the best way to start them off strong is to plant them right in the ground.
You’ll also need to worry about the soil quality. Since these plants grow so quickly, they need a huge amount of nutrients. So, your soil has to be very rich in organic nutrients and matter. If you want to improve your soil, yo ucan dig a hole that is roughly 1.5 feet across and fill it with a mix of soil and compost. You can make two or three of these beds in different areas of your garden.
Sprinkle in a small amount of your papaya seeds, aiming to get a couple dozen per bed. Cover the seeds with a light layer of compost and add mulch on top of that. The seeds typically take a few weeks to germinate under the right conditions. You should eventually see seedlings of different sizes poking up through the ground. You want to start culling out the weaker seeds by cutting the bigger ones and pulling out the smaller ones to leave only the strongest behind.
At this stage, you want roughly six to eight plants per bed. Papaya plants can be female, male, or hermaphrodites. Male papaya plants don’t bear fruit, and you’ll have to make sure that you have at least one male or hermaphrodite plant in there to encourage strong fruiting. They’ll start to flower when they’re roughly three feet tall, and the males will flower first. The males will have thin, long stalks with many small flowers. Females will have a bigger single bloom that is closer to the trunk.
You want to get rid of the majority of the male papaya plants. You only need one male for every 10 to 15 female papaya plants you have to get good pollination. The goal is to end up with one very healthy and strong female plant in each bed. If the weather stays very warm and your plant gets enough sun and has good soil, you can see fruit in as little as 10 months.
Papayas come with soft and large leaves. This allows them to evaporate a lot of water when the weather warms up, so they need a decent amount of water. However, they are very prone to developing issues with root rot, especially in cooler climates. Overwatering is the number one cause of this issue when you grow them.
The overall health of the plant and the weather will determine how much water it needs. A healthier plant will tolerate much more, but you want to cut back on your watering when the weather cools down.
Ideally, you’ll give your type of papaya tree as much fertilizer as possible. They love fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content, and you should fertilize them regularly. You can use a complete fertilizer to complete this job. Papaya also does well with fresh or strong manure. You also want to be generous with the amount of compost you add, and just keep adding more as the plant grows bigger.
Again, you want any type of papaya plant to get as much sun as possible. The leaves may even wilt a bit when the weather gets hot. They adore sunlight and heat. You can get them to grow decently well in partial shade, but you’ll eventually have a sickly, spindly tree. If you get fruit from this tree, it’ll have a nasty taste and be way up in the tree.
When Papayas Fruit and Quantities
Papayas will fruit all year round if the weather permits it. As long as you work to keep them happy, they’ll continue to produce fruit. If the temperatures get too low, they’ll stop flowering. They’ll resume flowing as the weather gets warmer. Younger papayas are the most productive plants you can get. The older your plant gets, the weaker it gets. It will start to produce smaller and fewer fruits, and it can develop issues with diseases. Also, since the plants grow taller, it can be difficult to reach the fruit without a ladder.
Ideally, you’ll just keep planting more plants as the years go on. You can put in another patch every few months. This allows you to constantly have access to productive and healthy plants with fruit that is lower to the ground.
Average Lifespan of a Papaya Plant
Even though these trees look hardy, they’re very top heavy and prone to damage from high winds or diseases. Papayas by Jorge Nava / CC BY-SA 2.0
The average lifespan of your type of papaya can vary, but most have shorter lifespans. As the plant ages, they are more prone to developing problems with diseases. A lot of them will die within two or three years. If a big storm comes through, this can cause the plant to blow over.
Growing Papaya In Cooler Climates
If you get hot, long summers, it’s possible to grow papaya as an ornamental plant. You would start them indoors in a larger pot to give yourself extra time for them to grow. Plant them against a sun-facing wall to bring a tropical look to your garden. They won’t stay alive long enough to bear fruit though. The only other option you have is to grow them in a huge pot and put the pot into a heated greenhouse during the winter months. This still won’t usually lead to a lot of fruit though.
Common Problems When Growing Papayas
Generally speaking, strong wings are a very common issue when you’re trying to grow papaya. These plants come with a very shallow root system on them, and they get very top heavy as they age. This allows them to blow over easily if a strong wind comes along, and it’s another reason why you would replant over and over.
Birds and other pests also love types of papaya. This is why you should pick the fruit as soon as you notice it starting to change colors. It will continue to ripen indoors if you stick it on a sunny windowsill.
Different types of papapa are relatively easy to grow, as long as you live in a warmer climate. You can decide whether or not your location will support this plant’s growth and try adding some to your garden to get a sweet and fleshy tropical fruit.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.