When you slice open the buttery flesh of papaya, you are met with a hollowed-out center that runs along the length of the fruit. Inside this cavity are strange-looking black, round seeds that have a very shiny surface. These little seeds easily detach from the papaya's center, and when you touch one, it feels wet and slimy.
Take a seed and roll it between two of your fingers—you will then feel the gelatinous pouch that surrounds the actual hard seed inside of it. There is no smell other than the normal papaya scent. Continue rolling the seed with your fingers, and soon the little slimy covering will burst and pull away to reveal the black seed. Now you can take a better look at the strange-looking onyx-colored ball. It has a rough texture, and it looks similar to the surface of a morel mushroom cap with all of the tiny little holes. Once removed from the jelly pouch, you'll notice that there still isn't much of a scent.
Savor That Zesty Flavor
Now place the seed in your mouth. Chew it until you can taste a flavor other than papaya. It may take a second or two to recognize the taste coating your taste buds. First it will be a little bitter, then peppery, and lastly, it will be reminiscent of mild horseradish. As crazy as that sounds, papaya seeds do taste like that pungent root that goes so great with pork sausages.
After your mind puts the similarity of flavors together, you'll notice that unlike actual horseradish, the pungency of papaya seeds lasts very little time. You won't get the tingling sensation that people often get when they eat horseradish, but you will thoroughly enjoy the zestiness of the papaya seeds. Interestingly, each fruit has seeds that vary in their pungency. Some say that the papaya's size will affect how mild or spicy the seeds are.
Save Your Seeds
The next time you open papaya, consider saving the seeds instead of discarding them. Some people like to use the fresh, raw seeds in different recipes or eat them right along the papaya flesh. Other people dry out the seeds and use them as a seasoning. Whichever way you try, note that fresh papaya seeds have a much stronger taste than dried papaya seeds.
Possible Health Benefits and Side Effects
The papaya itself is quite a nutritious fruit, the flesh is loaded with antioxidants, Vitamin C, and has a good amount of both Vitamin B and A. It's also rich in folate, potassium, copper, magnesium and dietary fiber. But what about the seeds? They too are loaded with antioxidants and with antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Throughout the tropical areas of the world where papaya is consumed, the seeds are highly valued for their ability to fight off intestinal bugs. The key is first to break them free of their sac so that your stomach can better digest them and reap their parasite-fighting properties. But it is important to note that you should never eat more than a teaspoon at once. This intestinal benefit does not only apply to people living in the tropics—anyone anywhere that suffers from intestinal parasites will benefit.
There are many other health claims of papaya seeds. They are said to fight cancer tumors, repair damaged skin, and are allegedly great for repairing the liver. But perhaps the most curious health claim is that it is a natural male contraceptive. The belief about this claim was substantiated when studies done on lab animals revealed that papaya seeds drastically lowered the animals' sperm counts. There is no proof that the same effect translates to humans, however.
To start, scoop out the seeds from inside of the papaya using a spoon. Next, rinse them under running water in a strainer, using your hands to rub and squeeze the seeds until you remove the gelatinous sac. Pat them dry with a paper towel and lay them on a baking sheet. You can place them in a sunny spot in your kitchen where they can be dried out naturally by the sun. A quicker drying method is to place them in the oven under very low heat. Once the seeds are completely free of moisture, you can store them whole or grind them up with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Store the dried seeds or powder in a dark place free of humidity.
Once the papaya seeds have been dried, you can use them just like a seasoning. The dried seeds do not have the strong pungency that the fresh ones do; rather their flavor is similar to a black peppercorn. Dried papaya seed is often used as a suitable substitute for ground black pepper.
Because of their strong horseradish and black pepper pungency, papaya seeds are not so easy to incorporate into recipes. Other than using as a black pepper replacement, the most popular use for papaya seed is in salad dressings.
US Department of Agriculture. Papayas, raw. Updated April 1, 2019.
Ortega-Pacheco A, Jimenez-Coello M, Acosta-Viana KY, et al. Effects of papaya seeds extract on the sperm characteristics of dogs. Anim Reprod Sci. 2011;129(1-2):82-8. doi:10.1016/j.anireprosci.2011.10.002