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Bangkok papayas widely vary in size, ranging from 15-50 centimeters in length and 10-20 centimeters in diameter, and are oval to elongated in shape. The thin skin is smooth, slightly waxy, and firm with variegated hues of orange, yellow, and green depending on maturity. Underneath the surface, the flesh is crisp, dense, tender, and dark orange with a central seed cavity filled with pale orange membranes and many dark brown seeds. When ripe, Bangkok papayas have a creamy and smooth consistency with a tropical, musky, and subtly sweet flavor.
Bangkok papayas are available year-round in tropical climates.
Bangkok papayas, botanically classified as Carica papaya, are elongated berries that grow on a large herb reaching 6-9 meters in height and belong to the Caricaceae family. There are many elongated papaya varieties that are labeled as Bangkok papayas in the market as Bangkok is a term used for any papaya grown in the Bangkok region. It is believed that the majority of the papayas labeled under the Bangkok name are the khaek dam papaya, which is one of the most cultivated varieties in Thailand. Within this variety alone there is also high genetic variation as the fruits have been open-pollinated in fields over time, grown next to other papaya varieties, and are still sold under the same name regardless of its genetic makeup. Bangkok papayas are favored for their fast-growing nature and semi-sweet flesh when ripe, predominately consumed fresh, out-of-hand or used in raw culinary applications.
Bangkok papayas are a good source of vitamins A, C, and E, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to help protect against vision loss and improve skin and hair. The fruit also contains potassium, manganese, folate, and magnesium.
Bangkok papayas are best suited for raw applications as their sweet, musky flesh is showcased when consumed fresh out-of-hand. The fruit can be sliced and eaten as a snack, cubed and tossed into green salads and fruit bowls, or blended into smoothies. Bangkok papayas can also be incorporated into soups, chopped into salsas and dressings, or dried for extended use as a chewy snack. In addition to using the fruit when ripe, Bangkok papayas are sometimes utilized unripe and are sliced and mixed into som tam, which is a spicy, sweet, and sour salad using garlic, chile, fish sauce, and lime juice. Bangkok papayas pair well with coconut water, banana, mango, pears, avocadoes, lime juice, cinnamon, turmeric, chile powder, cilantro, and red onion. The unripe fruits will keep for a couple of days at room temperature until ripe. Once ripe, Bangkok papayas will keep up to one week when stored in the refrigerator. Sliced pieces of the fruit should be stored in a plastic bag and refrigerated for 2-3 days.
In Thailand, Isan food has become one of the most popular street cuisines throughout the country. Isan is a northeast region of Thailand that creates complex flavors in simple, fresh dishes. Utilizing fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs such as cilantro and mint for bright flavors, acidity from lime juice, fat from peanuts, and spice from chile peppers, Isan food is known for its salads, especially their version of som tam. In the markets, Isan som tam incorporates green Bangkok papaya with dried shrimp, sugar, fish sauce, tomatoes, green beans, lime, garlic, and chile peppers to create a crunchy side dish served with rice or cooked meat. In addition to craving the sweet and spicy green papaya salad, Thai locals also consume ripe Bangkok papaya after dinner to help cleanse the digestive system as they believe the fruit has laxative properties.
Papaya is believed to be native to tropical America and was introduced to Thailand over three-hundred years ago. Since then, many varieties of papaya have been created and cultivated in Thailand and are often sold in both green and mature states under generic names in the market. Today Bangkok papayas are found in local markets in Thailand and are also found at select specialty grocers throughout Asia and Southeast Asia.
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