Yexi comes across some remarkable fruits on his excursions around the world. Take the papaya, for instance. OK, so it won't win a beauty contest. They sometimes even put it down by calling it a 'tree melon'. But, once you've tasted it, you're sure to come back for more. Hmm! Its flesh is yellow-orange, deliciously tender and – yes - it tastes a little like a melon but much, much sweeter. So what would you do if you were as ultra-curious as Yexi? Exactly: visit a papaya grower!
He greets us with hands outstretched: Rodrigo. ‘Bom dia!’ There we are in Baraúna, a municipality in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte. ‘For us, the papaya is as important a crop as the potato or onion are to you: it's actually Brazil’s biggest crop', says Rodrigo. ‘In Brazil, the papaya is the fourth most commonly eaten fruit.’
The papaya is part of Rodrigo's DNA. His father started growing them somewhere in the mid-90s of the last century. At first, his fruit was grown mainly for the domestic market, specifically for Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. ‘But I was quick to see the sales potential for this crop. I started my own business in 2005. We work closely with 12 other local producers. We grow papayas for supermarkets... and for you in Europe, don’t we?'
According to Rodrigo, papaya growers are increasingly applying a more professional approach to cultivation. But they have to be patient. It takes nine months before you see the first fruits hanging from the trees (and those trees can grow to six metres in height!). Rodrigo and his employees make sure that all the papaya plants get enough nutrients and water. And Brazil, too, is working on sustainability. Rodrigo: ‘You bet! Since last year, we haven't needed any chemical agents to keep our harvested products fresh. That means they can handle the long journey to Europe better while retaining their flavour on the way!’
We take a short tour around the huge plantation. The bright Brazilian sun is shining down, but what do you expect? The climate here is tropical: hot and humid, perfect for these fruits. The average summer temperature in Brazil ranges from 30 to 35 degrees. When we visit, the harvest is in full swing. Hanging off the tree trunks this year are an exceptional number of fruits. We see Rodrigo's employees everywhere, each with a big basket that is quickly filled with delicious fruits. We watch as one of them skilfully removes papaya from a tree.
‘That's when they're at their best', Rodrigo points to a large papaya. ‘When they're bright green and yellow! Not until then is a papaya really ripe. Just peel it, remove the seeds, cut it into pieces and pop them into your mouth – yum. Know what we often do? Take out the seeds and dribble a little honey over them! We usually eat papaya for breakfast here. But also in the evening sometimes for a healthy snack.’
Papaya is really good for you. In its homeland, the papaya is known not only for its many culinary uses but also for its medicinal benefits. These fruits are literally bursting with antioxidants, vitamins C and E, minerals and digestive enzymes. But what about calories? Rodrigo: ‘Just 40 calories in 100 grams. So help yourself to another one.’ Now that's something you don't have to say twice to a health-conscious sweet tooth like Yexi!
Crème de Papaya is a very popular and traditional Brazilian dessert. This dessert is found on every menu in Brazil. Besides being very quick and easy to make, it's indescribably delicious. Rodrigo: 'We always serve it when we have a party.'