Remember your first bite of papaya? Its smooth, melting flesh, subtle floral taste, and musky aroma might have seemed seductive ― or strange. (Regardless, a squeeze of lime made it more enjoyable.)
Papayas' growing presence in the market is evidence that they've seduced a good share of their audience. Small (1 to 1½ lb.) pear-shaped Solo papayas, primarily from Hawaii, and large (1½ to 7 lb.) football-shaped Meridol (also spelled Maradol) fruit from Mexico dominate the supply in Western markets. Other Meridol sources are Belize, Costa Rica, Brazil, and the Caribbean. As a result, papayas of one variety or another are available here year-round.
Although sweetness and color vary slightly with variety and ripeness (some think Solo has a more intense flavor and Meridol a muskier taste), papayas can be used interchangeably. After harvest, fruit will soften and get juicier, but sugar content will not change.
Buy papayas with some golden color and smooth, unblemished skin. To ripen, store at room temperature until most of the skin turns gold and the flesh gives slightly when gently pressed. Eat, or refrigerate up to several days. Chilling before fruit is ready to eat can stop the ripening process.
Green, or immature, papayas are firm and unripe. Southeast Asians use green papaya as a vegetable, raw or cooked, for its crunchy texture and cool flavor, reminiscent of cucumbers and chayotes. Look for green papayas in Asian food markets. To keep fruit firm, store at cool room temperature (about 55°) or refrigerate.