When can baby eat papaya? Learn how and when to introduce papaya to baby here on our Papaya Baby Food Recipes page.
The papaya is a highly nutritious tropical fruit that looks rather like an enormous pear!
There are two main varieties available – Hawaiian papayas, which are the most common and weigh around a pound each – and Mexican papayas, which are much bigger but have a less intense flavour.
In some parts of the world, the papaya is referred to as ‘paw paw’ – but, confusingly, a true paw paw is a different fruit altogether!
Papayas have a richly coloured orange or pinkish flesh – and that wonderful colour tells you straight away that they contain lots of beta-carotene and lycopene, both useful chemicals with anti-oxidant properties.
They’re also brimming with vitamin C, B vitamins and minerals… all powerful nutrients that help protect the body against serious conditions like heart disease and cancer.
In addition, papayas are revered worldwide for their anti-inflammatory properties (meaning they may be useful in reducing the symptoms of conditions like asthma) and they also help strengthen the immune system, making them a wonderfully natural way to protect your baby against colds and other infections.
Another interesting thing about papayas is their ability to aid digestion. Papayas contain a substance called papain, which breaks down protein so effectively it is used commercially as a meat tenderizer. This same substance is believed by many to help cleanse the digestive tract – and it may also help control the levels of acid in the stomach –
As we wrote here on our blog, some parents are discovering that papaya seems to reduce the severity of their babies’ reflux symptoms.
NOTE: Giving your baby too much papaya can cause a temporary yelllowing of the skin, just like the discolouration that can occur in some babies who eat lots of sweet potato (see Carotenemia – A Review). It’s a harmless condition and fades as baby begins to eat a wider variety of foods – but you should always consult your doctor if you have any concerns, or if the whites of your baby’s eyes appear yellow.
With your doctor’s consent, you can introduce papaya to your baby from 6 months of age.
Whilst it’s not high on the list of potential allergens, there is a connection between latex allergy and allergy to papaya. Therefore, if your baby is allergic to latex – or if there is a family history of latex allergy – you may choose to delay the introduction of papaya, as directed by your doctor.
A papaya that’s ready to eat will have a texture that yields to gentle pressure and an orangey-red skin.
It will have a mild, sweet fragrance – but an overly-strong sweet fragrance can be an indication that the fruit is beginning to spoil.
If you’re looking for a papaya that you plan to use within a few days, choose one that has yellow patches on the skin – this means that it isn’t quite ripe, but will be soon.
You can speed up the ripening process by putting it in a paper bag with a ripe banana, in the same way as you’d ripen an avocado.
DON’T put the papaya in the fridge before it’s fully ripened, or the ripening process will stop!
Avoid buying papayas that are completely green and hard.
Papayas will only ripen off the plant after yellow patches have appeared – a papaya picked whilst completely green will never become sweet and juicy and will only be suitable for cooking (some people like to use cooked green papaya as a substitute for winter squash).
The flesh of a ripe papaya should be sweet and juicy with a buttery texture and a unique taste which many compare to cantaloupe (but which we feel doesn’t quite compare to any other fruit!).
Papaya does not need cooking and can be served just as it is – but if you have chosen to introduce it to your baby before 6 months of age, then you may choose to cook it to make it more easily digestible (see our page ‘Fruits and Vegetables for Baby – Do They HAVE To Be Cooked?’ for more information).
You can buy organic papaya if you prefer – however, the papaya is actually considered to be one of the least hazardous fruits in terms of pesticide residues, because the thick, inedible skin is removed before consumption.
That being said, non-organic papayas may harbour some traces of pesticide residues on their skins, so you should always give them a good wash before cutting them.
Simply slice the fruit in half lengthwise, then scoop out the seeds.
You can then use a spoon or melon baller to scoop out the flesh, which can be mashed or pureed and served to your little one.
Alternatively, peel the papaya with a sharp knife, then cut it in half, remove the seeds and dice the flesh for use in your baby food recipes.