Ripe papaya fruit may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.
Papaya flowers, leaves, roots, and seeds are also edible, but there is limited research on the safety of these foods for babies and toddlers. The same goes for young papaya, also known as green papaya or unripe papaya. Consider waiting until your child is older and has developed advanced eating skills to serve the unripe fruit and other parts of the plant and note that the information below is all about ripe papaya fruit—a terrific first food for babies and toddlers.
Papaya originated in Central America before it was taken by European colonizers to Africa, Asia, and Australia, where it is sometimes called papaw. Today the fruit tree thrives wherever skies are sunny, temperatures are consistently warm, and there is plenty of rainfall to plump up the fruit. Like all produce, there are different varieties—some are small and shaped like a pear, others are oblong and weigh up to five pounds—with flesh that ranges in color from salmon-red to peachy pink to fiery yellow. Botanically a berry, papaya fruit can be eaten raw, like a melon when it is ripe, or cooked like squash when it is still young, firm, and green. As young papaya fruit ripens, its pulp softens and its green skin fades, some to a pale yellow, others to deep gold with blushes of pink. The aroma of papaya fruit also changes as it ripens, at first bright and sweet, then increasingly earthy and musky as the fruit overripens. The pronounced smell comes from papain, a plant enzyme that helps our bodies break down proteins and that can be used in marinades and rubs to tenderize meat.
★Tip: Whole papaya is ripe and ready to eat when most of the green skin has faded, it is fragrant, and it gives when pressed—like a ripe avocado, melon, or tomato. Mottled brown spots on the skin and a musky smell are signs that the fruit has reached peak ripeness.