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Fruit of the papaya tree, which is believed to be native to Central America. The papaya tree usually measures between 6 and 33 feet in height. According to botanical criteria, it is not truly a tree, since its long trunk is not sufficiently woody and its leaves grow only at the top. A papaya tree may produce from 30 to 150 fruits per year. The papaya is ready to be picked as soon as its skin is streaked with yellow; 4 to 5 days later, it is usually ripe. Papaya has long been appreciated by Latin American Indians. The Spanish and Portuguese had a hand in spreading its culture throughout the world, and papayas are now cultivated in most tropical and subtropical climates, particularly in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, and India.

The papaya tree propagates easily, grows quickly, and blooms continuously, producing fruits all year long. However, it has a limited lifespan. Unripe papayas contain an odourless, whitish liquid; it is from this latex that papain, an enzyme with properties similar to the bromelin in pineapples or to the actidin in kiwis, is extracted. This enzyme tenderizes meat and prevents gelatine from gelling. This "solvent" sap is present in the tree's trunk, limbs, leaves, and fruit, particularly when it is still unripe. It is used for medicinal purposes and in various fields, including the food, leather, silk, wool, and brewing industries. Green papaya latex is also used in chewing gum. There are about 50 types of papayas of the Carica variety, most of which are inedible. The mountain papaya (Carica pubescens) and the babaco (Carica pentagonia) are less common.

Papayas are usually pear- or cylinder-shaped and measure from 4 to 20 inches; they can weigh anywhere from a few ounces to over 20 pounds. Commercial varieties are generally small, the Hawaiian "Solo" being one of the most common. The papaya's thin, smooth skin is inedible; it ranges in colour from orange to reddish yellow or yellowish green. The colour of its juicy pulp is usually a yellowish orange of varying intensity, but it may also be yellow or red. Its texture is similar to that of the cantaloupe, yet softer. The fruit's central cavity contains numerous seeds embedded in a mucilaginous substance. They resemble large peppercorns and have a peppery taste. The papaya's mellow flavour resembles that of the melon; its sweetness and fragrance may vary.