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Papaya, fruit or vegetable?

By: By Mana Kohatsu

Date Posted: 2012-08-31

Is papaya a fruit or a vegetable? Thatís the age-old question for Okinawans, who mostly consider it a vegetable when used before ripening, and a fruit once itís ripe. Sounds simple enough for one of the most famous fruits, or vegetables, in Japan.

Called Papaiya in Japanese, and papaya in Okinawan dialect, itís mostly cooked as a stir-fry, or boiled before it becomes ripe. As a specialty, itís crispy and bitter sweet, and an Okinawan treat. Cooking papaya is unique to Okinawa, but cooks here consider it simply an ordinary way to treat it.

Papaya holds papain enzyme, an element that helps make a meat mild, and promotes assimilation of protein in the body. Papaya is also credited with promoting an analgesic action that protects individuals from high blood pressure. The fleshy fruit, or is it vegetable, is grown in the Nago, Tomigusuku and Gushikami areas. Papaya is available most of the year, but the harvest high season is summer. Youíll also find papaya growing in yards of private residences, and also in the wild.

Papaya is highly touted for mothersí post-partum, and experts say papaya helps a motherís milk set well. In Okinawa, the most famous method of cooking papaya is ďpapaya irichiĒ that cooks papaya and pork together with seasonings. Chefs caution newbees who cook with papaya, noting that the enzyme in papaya is enough to make some people itch after touching it. If people find themselves itching after handling a papaya, wearing cooking gloves is recommended.

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