A ripe papaya is often sweet and juicy with just the right amount of acidity. The flesh should also be soft without being mushy, making it a delicious ingredient in fruit salads, smoothies, and homemade ice cream. An unripe papaya will often taste sour or bland, and have hard flesh that isn’t succulent at all. Though many stores sell unripe papaya so that they don't spoil on the shelves, consumers don’t have to settle for less than perfect fruit. A few tips for ripening papaya include choosing the right kind of papaya, storing it with other fruit, and keeping it at the right temperature.
Most grocery stores and farmers’ markets purposely harvest papayas and other produce early so they have a few days to sell them before they start to spoil. This means most of the papaya consumers run into is not yet ready to eat, but can be in a few days. The first step in ripening papaya is choosing one with a yellow-green skin. A yellow skin with a slight tinge of green indicates that that papaya is on the cusp of ripening. The skin should also be free of punctures, bruises, and score marks.
Another tip for ripening papaya includes storing it with other fruit. Most ripening instructions say to put unripe fruit in a brown paper bag, but only a few tout the benefits of slipping a ripe apple, banana, or orange into the bag as well. The gasses the ripe fruit emits will help the papaya ripen more quickly, meaning it only has to stay in the bag for a day or two. Those that don’t have ripe fruit to add to the bag should typically wait up to four days before the papaya is fully ready. Ripe papaya features bright yellow skin that is firm, but gives slightly under the fingers.
Ripening papayas should typically be stored at relatively cool temperatures. Very warm conditions could cause them to spoil quickly, while very cold temperatures could prevent them from ripening at all. A few degrees below room temperature typically does the trick. Areas like kitchen cupboards or root cellars work well. Avoid the top of the refrigerator, areas around the stove, or sunlit windowsills. Storing the fruit inside the refrigerator may also be counterproductive.
Some individuals like to score the skin of the ripening papaya to help speed the process. This can be tricky, as the scores must just cut through the skin but not into the flesh of the fruit. Cutting the skin may also attract insects or cause the ripening papaya to become mushy if it is left too long. Papayas ripened in this way usually only need 24 to 48 hours to ripen fully.