Papaya – A Versatile Fruit: Indonesia

The papaya is one of the most versatile tropical trees. It grows easily in nearly any type of soil and its fruit is available throughout the year.

It is also a decorative tree and planted among more expensive plants the tree will enhance its environment, especially when the tree belongs to the male specimen with white flowers.

Papaya: An all-time favorite fruit
Suryatini N. Ganie, Contributor, Jakarta

In Indonesia papaya come in three species, the above mentioned male papaya, or pepaya laki, the female papaya, or pepaya betina, and the pepaya sempurna, or the perfect papaya, which are trees with a cluster of perfectly growing oblong-shaped fruit, as well as trees with no fruits but with a perfect “crown” of flowers and leaves.

Apart from being decorative, the tree is also much used in local kitchens. The young leaves can be eaten as a healthy salad with any type of spicy dressing. Raw leaves do not have a bitter taste, but when cooked will have a distinctive bitter taste many people like. Adding a handful of guava leaves when cooking, the bitter taste will go away.

Large papaya leaves can be used as a natural meat tenderizer. Put some rather tough meat in the center of some leaves, wrap it and crush. Leave in a cool place for an hour, take out, rinse the meat and prepare how you like.

Unripe papaya fruit with green-colored skin can be prepared in many ways. One of the regions famous for its unripe papaya dishes is Surakarta, where traditional nasi liwet (rice cooked in a earthenware pot or normal cooking pot) is served with a curried dish of finely cut unripe papaya called sambal goreng pepaya, opor ayam or a rich chicken curry, pindang telur, hard-boiled hen’s eggs cooked with salam leaves, galangal or lengkuas, and salt and for a crunchy bite, shrimp crackers or krupuk.

Semi-ripe papaya, which is rather hard with an orange and cream-colored flesh, is often used as one of the ingredients for rujak, with a dressing of ground chilies, trassi, (belachan) salt and some souring agent like asam Jawa.

For a special post-Ramadhan sweet, many housewives in Jakarta’s suburbs make manisan papaya, which are slices of semi-ripe papaya sweetened in a brine of sugar for a week or so, sieved, and then dried under the sun.

The best manisan papaya though comes from Aceh and the region of Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, where the semi-ripe papaya is cut in flowers or other patterns. Manisan papaya is served at formal or pre-wedding ceremonies. Semi ripe papaya is also used for creative salads and braised dishes.

Papaya also has some very useful nutritional and medicinal properties. The vitamin C in the fruit is at its peak when the papaya is perfectly ripe, in contrast to other vitamin C rich fruits which have less vitamin C when ripe. Papaya is also rich in calcium. As for the seeds, many people in Asia consider it as a “zest” enhancer: “Biting into a papaya seed”, they say, “gives you more zest.”

In Indonesia, papaya has different names in different regions. In Central and East Java it is kates or betik, in West Java gedang. In West Sumatra kaliki, in Tapanuli botik, in Medan bitik. If you are in Toraja, it is better to ask for kaliki like in West Sumatra.

Last but not least, what is the best way to enjoy ripe papaya? Some species are very sweet, containing 9 percent sugar (48.3 percent sucrose, 29 percent glucose and 21 percent fructose), so just pour a bit of lime or lemon juice over the fruit flesh and eat it, or juice it cold, or better ice cold, on hot and humid days.