Green papaya was often used in a curry when I was a child. I would always mistake it for a piece of potato, and find it shockingly soft when I bit into it. It has an interestingly different flavour. Given its wide prevalence in India (after all, India rivals Brazil as the top producer of papaya) it is interesting that there is no Sanskrit word for the plant or fruit. Our word for it comes from an unknown native American word, which was corrupted to ababai after Spaniards introduced it into Haiti and San Domingo in 1521 CE. There are records of a very early modern introduction of the fruit into the Malaya archipelago (where ababai was further corrupted into papaya), and from there to India. Jan Huyghen van Linschoten wrote in 1593 CE about finding papaya in the Philippines, Malaya, and India, and traced the route of the tree to these three places in this order. His book was apparently considered a state secret in the Netherlands for several years! This tells us a lot about the financial markets of early modern Europe.

But before that? Wide deforestation prevents complete tracing of the wild ancestors of papaya, but evidence points to its native range being somewhere in Mexico. From genomic studies of the plant it can be inferred that the hermaphroditic variety which is widely used in cultivation, and the recessive gene which gives the red colour to the ripe flesh, rose about 4000 years ago. This coincides with the rise of the Maya. So, despite the absence of archaeological remnants of the early seeds and pollen, the consensus of current opinion is that the early Maya began the domestication of papaya, New evidence can always changes opinion, so I accept this now as a working hypothesis while I get ready to carve up the fruit which you see in the featured photo.

Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

25 thoughts on “Papaya”

  1. I don’t remember seeing green papaya on any menus in India. We only saw it in markets. We loved the green papaya salads in Thailand and Laos so I think it would have caught our attention. Too bad we missed it.

    Liked by 1 person

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