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Samba papayas are large, elongated oval fruits measuring up to 20 centimeters long. They have wide necks and rounded ends. The thin skin ripens from green to a mottled yellow and then yellowish-orange. The tender flesh is a deep orange-red when fully mature has a melting quality. The central cavity is filled with small, edible, round black seeds. Samba papayas are mild and flavorful, offering a slight sweetness.
Samba papayas are available in the early summer and through the fall months.
Samba papayas are a hybrid variety newly introduced in 2018. They are botanically classified as Carica papaya ‘Samba’ and are one of the most nutrient dense fruits in the world. The new variety is only available through select vendors and is still a rarity in major grocery stores.
Samba papayas are very nutrient dense, high in beta-carotene and contain 212 different amino acids. They are rich in vitamin C and vitamin A and are a good source of riboflavin and folate. They contain B-complex vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, iron and potassium. Papayas also provide beneficial omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and contain the enzyme papain, which helps to break down protein and aid in digestion.
Samba papaya are most often eaten raw or they can be cooked or baked into various dishes. Used raw, they can be sliced or diced and eaten as is or along with other tropical fruits, in green salads, fruit salsas or in bowls or smoothies. Unripe fruits can be grated for salads or used in chutneys. Ripe fruits can be cooked down for compotes or tarts or used for jams or sauces. Pureed fruits can be used in beverages or made into frozen desserts. Fold pieces of Samba papaya into batters for muffins, scones or other baked goods. The seeds from the papaya can be used as a pepper substitute and offer a pungency similar to horseradish. Uncut Samba papayas can be kept at room temperature for up to a week. Store cut fruit in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Papaya is a major commercial export for Hawaii, South Africa, Australia, Mexico and parts of Southeast Asia. In some English-speaking countries, the fruits are known by the name tree melon for their melon-like characteristics. Another name for the fruit, “pawpaw,” comes from a Caribbean word and has been linked to the fruit since 1598. Pawpaw is also the name for a North American fruit, which can sometimes cause confusion.
Samba papayas are so new, there is very little information on their history. They are a hybrid species discovered sometime before 2016. They were first sold commercially in the United States in March of 2018 and in Europe later that year. Papayas are native to the tropical regions of America from southern Mexico to the Andes. Spanish explorers brought papaya seeds with them to Europe and Pacific Islands. Samba papayas are still relatively rare in commercial markets and may be spotted at specialty or farmers markets.