Learn how to cut a papaya to make slices, wedges, and cubes. I’ll show you easy peeling techniques and knife skills so you can prepare this tropical fruit as a healthy snack, salad, dessert, or drink.
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Have you ever been curious about that pear-shaped papaya when browsing the produce section? The fruit’s soft and sweet flesh is similar to a mango and is ideal for eating as a quick snack or adding an interesting tropical taste to salads or beverages. I’ll show you my simple methods for peeling and cutting, so you can enjoy the nutritious fruit throughout the year.
Papaya (Carica papaya), also called pawpaw or papaw, is considered a large berry that grows on trees. Those are some strong branches, especially since that the cylindrical fruit can weigh up to 10 pounds or more! The thin, greenish-yellow skin is easy to slice through. The pinkish-orange interior flesh has a honeyed flavor with a distinctive ripe, almost musky aroma. Grab one the next time you’re at the store to enjoy and practice your knife skills.
It’s always good practice to rinse fruit with cool water before cutting. This process helps to remove any dirt or contamination on the surface, which prevents it from transferring to the flesh.
Cut off the ends
To make the peeling process easy and provide a more stable base for cutting, cut off both ends. Just trim about 1/2-inch or up to 1-inch for larger papaya.
Remove the skin
You can peel the skin off before or after cutting. Otherwise, if you feel more comfortable, wait to remove the skin because the flesh can be slightly slippery, especially when working with more significant pieces. Once you get the hang of it, I find that peeling first is more straightforward.
The skin is edible, but it’s best to remove it. The papaya plant produces latex, which can remain on the surface during harvesting and may cause stomach irritation [Source].
Method 1: Peel the skin first
Depending on your comfort level, you have two options; knife or vegetable peeler. Use a sharp paring knife or chef’s knife for large papaya. Place it standing up on the cut-end on a cutting board, then run the knife down the length of the fruit, following its natural curvature. The goal is to leave as much flesh as possible.
Alternatively, the shallow blade of a peeler works well for yield and speed. Either hold the papaya in your hand or place it on the work surface. Slowly peel down the length of the fruit and rotate until you remove all the skin. If the flesh starts to get slippery, dry it with a clean paper towel.
Scoop out the seeds
When you slice open the papaya, there are shiny edible black seeds in the center. Use a spoon to scoop them out and discard them. The seeds are edible and make for an excellent high-fiber snack, but they have a slightly bitter, peppery taste.
Cut into wedges or cubes
Slice each cleaned half lengthwise into wedges, about 1/2 to 1-inch pieces. Each piece makes for a delicious snack, especially with lime juice squeezed on top. The citrus juice helps to tame the robust and musty aroma. You can further cut the wedges into cubes to add them to fruit salad or blend them up into a smoothie.
Cut into slices
Cut each peeled halve into thin slices, about 1/4-inch thick. Then cut again through the shortest area crosswise to create rainbow-like shapes. This technique works well if you have smaller papayas and makes for a pretty fruit platter presentation.
Method 2: Cut, then peel
Similar to cutting a cantaloupe, you can remove the skin later in the process. This method makes it easy to cut into large wedges or cubes.
Cut the papaya in half lengthwise, then scoop out the black seeds. Cut each half into wedges of your desired width, then use a paring knife to separate the skin from the flesh. If you prefer, you can further cut the pieces into cubes.
Season and types
The peak season for papaya is early summer and lingers into fall. However, importation and different growing seasons in various regions make it available year-round. Areas with warm, tropical climates like Hawaii, California, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central, and South America are the largest producers.
You’ll often find small individual sizes around 1 pound or more prominent ones like Tainung that can grow up to 4 pounds. Some Mexican varieties can grow up to 10 pounds. Hawaiian types like Sunset or Sunrise tend to be the sweetest.
Farmers harvest papayas when still green to withstand shipping conditions. During its travels, the skin turns yellow as it ripens. When picking at the store, look for a yellow skin or at least a few stripes. It’s okay if it has a slightly green hue as long as it’s not hard in texture.
Tainung papayas are ripe when still green. Typically for other varieties, green skin indicates it’s not yet mature and will taste sour. But in this case, it’s okay for use in a Thai papaya salad but just not great for snacking. Give it a light squeeze. There should be some give and feel soft but not squishy. Avoid any bruised or overly soft fruit.
If not yet ripe, store on the counter out of direct sunlight at room temperature. To accelerate the ripening process, place it in a paper bag with an ethylene gas-producing fruit like a banana or apple, and check each day. Once ripe, eat within a few days, or refrigerate for up to 3 days for the best taste. Store cut pieces of fresh papaya in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Ways to use papaya
- Cut into cubes for a tropical fruit salad
- Add pieces into a smoothie
- Cut small amounts to add into a fruit popsicle
- Chop it up for a fruit salsa
- Add on top of an acai bowl, oatmeal, or yogurt
Papaya is ripe when the exterior feels slightly soft when lightly pressed. Visually for most varieties, the skin turns from green to yellow. Some green hue is okay as long as the fruit is not firm.
Yes! The salmon-colored flesh is packed with lycopene, carotenoids, fiber, carbohydrates, minerals like magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium, and antioxidants like vitamin A, C, and E.
The flesh contains an enzyme called papain which aids in the breakdown of proteins for digestive health benefits. The enzyme is at the highest level in less ripe fruit and has even been isolated to be used as a meat tenderizer and nutritional supplement. Make sure to consult with a physician if pregnant before consuming [Source].
Why does papaya have a strong taste and odor?
The musky taste is due to the fruit containing a unique enzyme called papain. This enzyme creates an intense and possibly unpleasant experience and gets stronger as the fruit becomes riper. A little squeeze of citrus on top, like lime juice, helps to reduce the flavor.
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How to Cut a Papaya
- 1 papaya
- Rinse the papaya under cool running water to remove any dirt. Dry with a clean towel.
- Place the papaya on a cutting board and lay it on its side. Use a sharp knife to trim the ends off each side. Place cut-side down to create a sturdy base.
Method 1 – Peel the skin first
- Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, peeling down the fruit lengthwise. Alternatively, run a knife down the skin lengthwise, following the natural curvature of the papaya. Work all the way around, removing as little flesh as possible.
- Use a spoon to scoop out the black seeds and discard them.
- Slices: Cut into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick slices crosswise through the narrowest part of the fruit.Wedges: Cut each half lengthwise into strips about 1/2 to 1-inch thick.Cubes: Cut each wedge into 1/2 to 1-inch cubes or smaller as desired.
Method 2 – Cut, then peel
- Cut the papaya in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the black seeds and discard them.
- Wedges: Cut each half lengthwise into strips about 1/2 to 1-inch thick. Use a paring knife to separate the flesh from the skin, removing as little flesh as possible.Cubes: Cut each wedge into 1/2 to 1-inch cubes or smaller as desired.
- Serving Size: Based on small 6-ounce papaya, about 1/2 cup cubes per serving (about 73 g).
- Storing: Place ripe papaya in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Refrigerate cut pieces in an airtight container for 3 days.
- Freezing: Store in a single layer in a large resealable bag. You can freeze it for up to 3 to 6 months. Do not defrost before use, or the texture will become mushy.
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