Scientists deconstruct the perfect papaya

20 Jun 2016

Christopher Columbus called it the “fruit of the angels” and now The University of Queensland (UQ) scientists have, for the first time, identified the sensory properties of the ‘perfect’ papaya.

“According to our consumer taste tests, the perfect papaya is red, small or hand-sized, fewer seeds, a velvety texture, and sweet caramelised rockmelon and banana flavours,” said Dr Heather Smyth from the Queensland Alliance of Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), a partnership between The University of Queensland (UQ) and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF).
Despite being rich in anti-cancer components and often described as a ‘superfood’, papayas are off the menu for many consumers, due to perceptions of the fruit’s pungent taste or aroma.
“Papayas are super healthy – full of carotenoids and anti-cancer compounds such as isothiocyanates, in the flesh and seeds – but there are perceptions of them being expensive and having a bad flavour,” Dr Smyth said.
“If people have a bad fruit experience, they won’t go back.”
She said previous consumer work undertaken by Horticulture Innovation Australia had identified three distinct groups of consumers: those who loved papayas, those who consumed them occasionally and those who never ate them (the majority).
Dr Smyth’s study, funded by Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative and DAF, aimed to evaluate which varieties of papaya were most preferred by consumers, and to identify the characteristics of the preferred varieties.
“There was a strong preference for red papayas, as opposed to the yellow papaya, which are also known in Australia as papaws,” she said.
The Australian-grown Skybury and Fijian Red varieties were preferred by most consumers.
“In Australia, people who really love papaya are older consumers – those who may have grown up with a papaya tree in the backyard and been fed the fruit by their mothers or grandmothers for breakfast but this is a small percentage of the population,” Dr Smyth said.
However, many consumers who classified themselves as disliking papaya enjoyed the fruit in the taste tests. “They said ‘I hate tropical fruit’ but I enjoyed that,” Dr Smyth said. 2228762.jpg
She believes there may be an untapped new market of those who enjoyed the red papaya but are not currently consuming it – “if breeders can develop the preferred characteristics and processors are able to serve the fruit in snack food form”.
Dr Smyth also noted cultural differences between the consumption of papaya. “In Fiji and the Pacific Islands, papayas are often consumed when they are unripened and green, and often used in dis
hes with other ingredients, whereas in Australia we tend to consume the fruit on its own, or perhaps with some yoghurt.”
Australia produces around $20 million papaya annually, with most of it grown in Queensland around the Innisfail and Mareeba areas.See papaya recipes at Papaya Australia, including Spiced Poached Red Papaya Compote
Media: Margaret Puls, Marketing and Communications Manager, QAAFI (+61 7 3346 0553, 0419 578 356,; Dr Heather Smyth, Senior Research Fellow, (+61 7 3276 6035,