Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eating Chilean Papayas

This week when I went to the local feria (farmers market) I saw these beautiful Chilean papayas.  I knew what they were because I had bought some preserved in glass jars in La Serena, north of Santiago a few hundred miles.

But I had never seen them fresh. Naturally I bought some:  these three were a little less that $1.00 (900 CLP/kg.)   They were firm to the touch and had a lovely aroma, but I didn’t know what to do with them.  

I discovered that they were mountain Papayas (Carica candamarcensis, or perhaps Caricacea pubescens, or Vasconcellea pubescens) and that there was some confusion about them.  Most sources (but not all) knew that they were not the same as the tropical papaya (Carica papaya) and most (but not all) knew that they should be cooked before eating because of their high levels of papain, an enzyme that digests proteins…. or perhaps just because they are hard. 
The most authoritative source I discovered was from Perdue University Horticulture Department:

The mountain papaya (C. candamarcencis Hook. f.), is native to Andean regions from Venezuela to Chile at altitudes between 6,000 and 10,000 ft (1,800-3,000 m). The plant is stout and tall but bears a small, yellow, conical, 5-angled fruit of sweet flavor. It is cultivated in climates too cold for the papaya, including northern Chile where it thrives mainly in and around the towns of Coquimbo and La Serena at near-sea-level. The fruit (borne all year) is too rich in papain for eating raw but is popular cooked, and is canned for domestic consumption and for export. The plant grows on mountains in Ceylon and South India; does well at 1800 ft (549 m) in Puerto Rico. Its high resistance to papaya viruses is of great interest to plant breeders there and elsewhere.[1]

But what to do with them?  Almost all the recipes I found started with papaya preserves, not the fresh fruit, but I found a few references that led me in the right direction.[2]  So I peeled them, simmered them in water, let them cool and took out the seeds, and cooked them some more with sugar.
This is what they looked like cooked, and ready to be seeded.

And this is the finished product.  The commercial version is below.



And here’s my recipe.

How are they?  Very good: firm, acid, and sweet with a taste somewhere between peach and mango.  And the syrup is great.

[1] Morton, J. 1987. Papaya. p. 336–346. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL. Quoted in NewCROPTM - The New Crop Resource Online Program” article on papaya.  On line at
[2] See “Conservas de papayas,” Cocinando con Martita on line at


  1. did you wear gloves to peel them? I've heard that when raw they can cause a skin reaction. Truth or fiction? Also, isn't it funny how you have to buy preserved papayas if you go to La Serena? I mean, they sell them right in the grocery store!

    Looking forward to reading more about your food finds!

  2. Eileen,

    I didn’t wear gloves, and ran across nothing in my reading that suggested that I should—-of course I don’t use gloves to peel chiles or mangos either, so it may depend on one’s sensitivity. And thanks for your comment--we'll see what interesting things turn up in the feria,

  3. I was born in La Serena and I lived there until I was 18. My mum used to peel them without gloves and we used to eat them raw, without the seeds. Of course our lips suffered a bit.People used to say that blood pressure lowers when you eat them! And now I live in UK, Bristol and I am trying to grow them. I have 2 trees that give me only one type of flowers (male?female?) and the third one it seems has both. A 2 inch papaya is growing in this one! Will see if it can grow larger!

  4. When I was young we would spoon the seeds out and put sugar in the middle and let it absorb over night so when we ate it raw the next day they wouldn't be so acidic....I dream of eating these again

    1. Nice suggestion...I will have to try that! Yummy!

  5. Como quisiera estar en la Serena en este momento!

  6. Mas de 40 años sin probarlas

  7. my mom, who is 94, and was born in Vina Del Mar, said that her grandmother Grugrew papayas in her garden and says that when the papayas were ripe she loved slurping out the delicious seeds directly from the papaya. She also says that's the cook saved the skins and made a delicious comport or Preserve from the cooked skins with sugar.

    I live in Gainesville Florida and I'm trying to grow papayas but she claims they're nothing like the Chilean ones, sadly!

    Kind Regards,


  8. Thanks Pamela. Note that Pamela doesn't have an account so she wrote to me at the address in my profile and I published her comment for her. You're welcome to do do the same if you'd like.


Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim