Is Papaya a Fruit or Vegetable?

Tropical papaya is tasty and colorful, and can be found growing on a tree. It features a juicy succulent inner flesh that we love to eat, but is papaya a fruit or vegetable?

The answer might surprise you because most people only think of papaya as a fruit.

In reality, papaya is both a fruit and vegetable. They are both due to different botanical and culinary classifications. 

This article will explore how fresh papaya can be both a fruit and vegetable, as well as a berry!

Papaya Cut in Half
Papaya Cut in Half

Is Papaya a Fruit or Vegetable?

Botanically, the papaya is a fruit. Science defines fruit as a plant part that contains female reproductive organs. Fruit also contains seeds. 

The papaya fruit is the plant ovary that produces seeds once it has been fertilized. It increases in size to allow for the development of a protective flesh covering to encase seeds in.

It is the popular fruit of the plant named Carica papaya native to Mexico and Central America.

The papaya might be considered a vegetable when it is used still unripe and green in savory cuisine. The word “vegetable” is not a scientific term, but more of a culinary term. Vegetable often refers more to taste and use in the preparation of food.

Green papayas are the unripe papaya that are considered vegetables and used in dishes. Ripe papayas are the fruits that are eaten raw.

It does refer to the edible parts of a plant such as stems, leaves, roots, flowers, and yes, fruit. So, all fruit would be vegetables, but not all vegetables would be fruit.

While papaya fruit will vary in size and shape, they are the product of a fertilized papaya plant flower. They contain black oval seeds that are found enclosed in the fleshy, juicy membrane of the plant’s enlarged ovary.

The papaya is classified as a berry because it develops from a single flower ovary and is fleshy and seed filled.  The fleshy pulp is sweet and is eaten raw or used in desserts, jams, and as syrup in canned goods.

Science defines the papaya botanically as a fruit. However, their use in food preparation also allows for them to be classified as savory vegetables. 

Papayas Sold at Grocery Stores
Papayas Sold at Grocery Stores

Papaya Nutritional Content

For such a delicious fruit, the papaya is packed full of nutrients. It can be consumed raw if it is ripe. Unripe papaya will require cooking.

Papaya is one of the most popular fruits in the world and it has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. Today, there are over 100 varieties of papayas grown worldwide. The fruit can be eaten raw as a snack or cooked into various dishes like salads, desserts, smoothies, and juices for their nutritional content. 

Generally, the papaya resembles a pear shape. It can grow as much as 20 inches long. The outer skin will appear green if unripe and orange when ripe. The papaya fruit contains numerous edible black seeds that are bitter.

The papaya also contains antioxidants called carotenoids and lycopene. Your body will absorb antioxidants more effectively from papayas. More so than other vegetables and fruits.

A small papaya of approximately 150 grams contains about 59 calories and these nutrients:

  • 1 gram of protein
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 15 grams of carbohydrates
  • 157% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for Vitamin C
  • 33% of the RDI for Vitamin A 
  • 14% of the RDI for Vitamin B9  (folate)
  • 11% of the RDI for Potassium 
  • Small or trace amounts of vitamins B1, B3, B5, calcium, vitamins E, K, and magnesium

Papaya Health Benefits

1. Papaya Aids Heart Health

Research demonstrates that high amounts of vitamin C and lycopene can protect from cardiovascular disease.

Papaya antioxidants can enhance good cholesterol effects and protect the heart muscle. Thus, papaya’s high lycopene and vitamin C can aid heart health. They can also reduce cardiovascular disease risks.

2. Papaya Improves Digestion

Papaya contains the papain enzyme. This enzyme can break down the rugged protein chains contained in muscle meat. Papaya is used as a meat tenderizer for this reason.

It has also been used to treat constipation and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

Papaya leaves, seeds, and even roots have been used in the treatment of ulcers.

3. Papaya Protects the Skin

Papaya not only helps inside the body, but keeps skin healthy as well. Science believes that wrinkles, and skin sagging occur during aging. This is due to the activity of free radicals in the body.

Research on Lycopene and vitamin C shows they protect skin from sun exposure and reduce aging damage. They also are known to reduce wrinkle depth.

4. Papaya Fights Disease

Scientists believe that many diseases are due to chronic inflammation. Papaya is high in carotenoids. These will contribute to reducing inflammation in the body.

Papayas Growing on Trees
Papayas Growing on Trees

How to Add Papaya into Your Diet

The important thing when introducing papaya into your diet is the fruit’s ripeness.  To eat papaya raw, it should be ripe with orange-red outer skin.

When a papaya is properly ripe, its skin will feel soft with light pressure. Its flavor is said to be best when served cold and can be paired with many types of food. 

Papaya is one of the most popular fruits in the world, and it’s easy to see why. It has an exotic flavor that can be enjoyed raw, cooked, juiced, frozen, dried, canned, or even made into juice drinks for its high water content.

To introduce papaya into your diet, here are some ideas.

  • Eat papaya as you would a cantaloupe, by slicing it open and removing the seeds.
  • Substitute the melon in prosciutto and melon with papaya. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around a piece of papaya.
  • Combine papaya with other fruit and coconut milk for a smoothie. They are perfect for breakfast or as a snack.
  • Chop ripe papaya together with avocado and cooked chicken for a salad.
  • Create your own salsa. Combine papaya with tomatoes, cilantro, and onions. Then mix it together with lime juice to taste.
  • Try papaya with Greek yogurt, blueberries, and your favorite nuts.

Is Papaya a Fruit or Vegetable? Final Thoughts

Papaya is both a versatile fruit and vegetable that can be eaten alone or combined with other foods.

Papaya is a great addition to any diet. It provides nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and more. It is low in calories and fat, making it a healthy choice for anyone looking to lose weight or maintain their current weight.

For other plants you may be wondering if they’re fruit or vegetable, check out these articles: 

Photo of author

Written by:

Denise Davis
I am an avid gardener who has spent most of her life in the garden, growing and cultivating organic veggies for friends and family. I love the earthy smell of composting and making homemade fertilizers from natural ingredients like old coffee grounds or eggshells. Gardening is a great way to get outside, learn new things about nature, exercise your body (and brain!) and eat healthy food you have grown yourself!