Papaya: a powerful food for good health

Papaya not only has a sweet flavor and texture, but is also packed with essential vitamins like A and C, as well as minerals and antioxidants that can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Photo by Ani Lana /

Papaya is among the things whose scientific name matches what is commonly known.

The first part of the botanical name, Carica papaia, comes from the Greek karika, which means fig-like in relation to the leaves.

It would not be wrong to say that papaya is an ever popular tropical fruit. Although the plant thrives in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, it is actually adaptable to a variety of climates.

A piece of papaya is not only a delight for the taste buds, but also a nutritionist. Fruit is full of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C which can strengthen our immune system and help in healing; Vitamin A, which is necessary for good vision and maintaining healthy skin; folate, which is essential for cell formation; potassium to regulate blood pressure; and antioxidants, which can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Varieties of papaya

There are many types of papaya, each with its own characteristics. The pear-shaped solo papaya is popular in Malaysia. Native to Hawaii, it has vibrant orange flesh that is delicately sweet. Malaysia exported tons of them to Japan in the 1980s.

Mexican papaya can grow up to 4.5 kg. The red-fleshed Maradol papaya is found in the Caribbean and Central America. Tainung papaya originates from Taiwan.

For now, the biggest producers of this fruit are Hawaii (USA), Brazil and India.


The papaya tree occurs in three sexual forms: male, female and hermaphrodite. The male produces only pollen and no fruit. Unless pollinated, the female produces small inedible fruits.

Hermaphrodites can self-pollinate.

During my monitoring of the Successful Farming program in Sarawak, I met some large seeders and those who supply external markets. What was interesting to me was that each of them had their own actions to ensure a good harvest, and some of them preferred to give the plant.

Papayas thrive in tropical and subtropical regions, but are actually adaptable to a range of different climates. Photo by Miguel Padrino /

Other properties

In addition to the fruits and young leaves being consumed as food, the papaya plant has long been used in traditional medicine.

The stem, trunk and bark are used to make ropes.

The latex present in the young fruit, as well as in the seeds, contains papain, an enzyme that is a protease, which means it breaks down proteins. It is the key substance used in meat tenderizers.


Papaya can be propagated either from seed or by grafting. Being a herbaceous plant, it is not suitable for planting in wet or waterlogged soil. It has a shallow root system and is best grown in well-drained soil that contains plenty of organic matter.

Soil with a low pH level needs to be limed to reduce acidity.

For me, I use a lot of organic fertilizer like chicken manure, and spread it away from the base of the plant.

It is a good practice to plant the papaya tree on a mound so that excess water can drain away after rain. Papaya planted from seed takes about four to five months before flowering and fruiting, and takes more than 50 days to reach the ripening stage.


Recently, papaya farmers in several areas in Peninsular Malaysia have faced serious problems. According to a report in a recent issue of Agroworld magazine, some diseases have caused papaya production in Selangor and Melaka to drop by 50 percent, while farmers in Perak are struggling to combat plant rot and leaf roll diseases.

There are also weather issues, probably due to climate change.

Rot can be caused by the fungus Manlinta fructicolor, which attacks green fruits, as well as the fusarium fungus, which is common during the rainy season and can cause stunted seedlings, root rot, stem discoloration, wilting, and death.

Hopefully, plant quarantine measures could prevent the spread of these serious diseases to Sarawak.

Happy gardening!

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