Papaya: The unsung hero of Filipino fruits
Spain brought the ubiquitous Papaya fruit to the Philippines from Central America in the 16th century. Since then, it has been part of Filipino daily life as fruit dessert, viand, and medicine.
A fruit and a vegetable
Filipinos eat Papaya as a dessert (panghimagas), but it has more uses as a raw fruit. The first on the dish list is, of course, the “Tinolang Manok” with malunggay (moringa leaves).
As a vegetable side dish, Papaya is made into Atsara (Filipino coleslaw). Other than these, it’s often used in any Ginisa (sauteed dishes) and Papaya leaves with coconut milk.
Health and wellness
More than two decades ago, a popular soap brand that uses Papaya extract revolutionized the skin whitening industry in the Philippines.
What followed was a bandwagon of skin products with Papaya extracts, including Papaya skin toner, cleanser, whitening soap, whitening lotion, and face mask exfoliators.
The Filipino brand Likas Papaya soap went global and inspired manufacturers from other countries to utilize it for skin health.
The forgotten uses and benefits of Papaya
Papaya contains enzymes called papain and chymopapain, known for their anti-inflammatory properties. These proteolytic enzymes help reduce inflammation.
It can also tenderize meat, help purge the liver of toxins, and effectively help break down food. But the most common use was to help ease digestion and reduce constipation, heartburn, and acid reflux.
Chewing fresh papaya seeds activates its enzymes and can purge intestinal worms and parasites. It contains high levels of the proteolytic enzyme papain, making it hard for intestinal parasites to survive.
Traditionally, chewing and swallowing the seeds daily for seven days can eliminate intestinal parasites, including hookworm, tapeworms, and pinworms. But the practice eventually stopped when affordable dewormers became commercially available.
In the last decade, the Papaya leaves were boiled as a medicinal tea for dengue fever and other viral illnesses.
In whatever ways Papaya was used or eaten, one thing is sure, it has saved lives and made life easier and sweeter.