Today, papayas are relatively easy to buy. Sweet and refreshing, they also supply good amounts of vitamin C and folate (folic acid), and some potassium. Papayas also contain an enzyme called papain, which aids in digestion.

The cultivated papaya has yellow orange or rose coloured flesh enclosed in skin that ranges in colour from green to orange to rose. The flavour of the sweet, juicy flesh is sometimes described as a cross between a peach and a melon. At the fruit's centre is a large cavity containing dozens of small, glistening seeds, which are edible and can be used as a garnish.

Papayas are picked when firm ripe to help them survive long distance shipping to market and are frequently sold partially ripe. Papayas turn from green to yellow orange as they ripen, so you should choose fruits that are at least half yellow; the colour change begins at the bottom and progresses toward the stem end. Papayas that are completely green with no tinge of yellow have been picked too soon and may never ripen properly.

Fully ripe papayas are three quarters to totally yellow or yellow orange; they will give slightly when pressed gently between your palms, but should not be soft and mushy at the stem end. The skin should be smooth, unbruised, and unshriveled, but light, superficial blemishes may be disregarded. Uncut papayas have no aroma; cut papayas should smell fragrant and sweet, not harsh or fermented.

A papaya that is one quarter to one third yellow will ripen in two to four days if left at room temperature: Place it in a paper bag with a banana to hasten ripening. Transfer ripe papayas to a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to a week, but the delicate flavour fades, so use them within a day or two, if possible.

Wash the papaya, then cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Save them for garnishing, if desired. Use this papaya "boat" as a container for salads or simply eat it with a spoon. Or, pare a whole or halved papaya with a paring knife or vegetable peeler and cut the flesh into wedges, slices (either crosswise or lengthwise), or dice. A melon baller is handy for scooping out the flesh.
Unlike most fruits, papaya does not discolour or darken after it's been cut or peeled.

Do not use uncooked papaya (or fresh pineapple) in gelatin moulds, as the papain enzyme it contains will prevent the mixture from setting.