When can babies eat papaya?
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 here is all about ripe papaya fruit—a terrific first food for babies and toddlers.
Background and origins of papaya
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.
Is papaya healthy for babies?
Yes. Ripe papaya fruit is packed with vitamins A and C—essential nutrients to support your baby’s eyesight, immune system, and skin. Vitamin C also helps your baby absorb iron from plant-based foods, and papaya has loads of vitamin C, even more than apples, bananas, and oranges.1 The fruit also offers plenty of B vitamins for energy, vitamin E for stronger cells, and fiber for a healthy gut.
It would be wise to start with ripe papaya fruit and wait until your child is older to serve green or unripe papaya. While information and research are limited, studies show that unripe papaya fruit contains more latex and papain than ripe papaya, which can act as irritants (these may also promote contractions in pregnant women).2 Animal research also suggests that the seeds or seed extract may not be safe for expecting moms.3
Is papaya a common choking hazard for babies?
It depends. Ripe papaya that is soft and gives under pressure shouldn’t pose any unusual risk. Green or unripe papaya, however, is firm and slippery—two qualities that can increase the risk of choking. As always, be sure to create a safe eating environment and stay near your baby during mealtime. Check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions!
Is papaya a common allergen?
No. Papaya is not a common allergen, although individuals with cashew, pistachio, mango, latex or kiwi allergy may be sensitive to papaya.6 Some individuals may also be sensitive to papain, an enzyme in the papaya plant.7 As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity on its own for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
How to cut papaya for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline. The preparation suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional, nutritionist or dietitian, or expert in pediatric feeding and eating. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 12 months old: Offer large “handles” of ripe papaya fruit (skin and seeds removed). If the fruit is too slippery for your baby to hold on to, sprinkle it with breadcrumbs, hemp seeds, infant cereal, shredded coconut, or finely ground nuts or seeds to add grip and texture. Mashed papaya fruit can also be served on its own for hand scooping or mixed into warm cereal, chia pudding, overnight oats, or yogurt.
12 to 24 months old: Serve bite-size pieces of papaya to be eaten with a fork or fingers. When you are introducing a fork, manage your expectations: eating with utensils is a skill that can take a few months to get the hang of it. Using utensils accurately can also be exhausting for babies, so don’t worry if your toddler goes back and forth between eating with fingers and utensils. Always make a utensil available at mealtime and try pre-loading a fork to help your toddler get the hang of it.
How often should you offer solids? See our sample feeding schedules for babies of every age.
Store whole papaya fruit at room temperature away from sunlight. After a couple of days on the countertop, it will be ripe. Eat it soon! Storing ripe papaya fruit in the fridge can help prolong freshness but tends to turn the flesh mushy after a couple of days.
Recipe: Sweet & Sour Papaya Spears
- 1 ripe papaya
- 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- Wash and dry the papaya.
- Place the fruit on its side on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice off the blossom and stem ends. Now stand the fruit upright on the cutting board. Hold it with one hand, and with your other hand, use the knife to peel the skin. Compost the skin and ends. Cut the papaya in half lengthwise. Scoop out and compost the seeds, or reserve for another use. If your papaya fruit is very large, you may only need one half for this recipe. If that is the case, wrap one half in plastic or cut it into cubes and place them in an air-tight container. Store the cut papaya in the fridge, where it will keep for up to 3 days.
- Cut the papaya into spears the width of two adult fingers placed next to one another. If the spears are longer than your point finger, cut in half or thirds to create manageable sizes for your child.
- Slice the lime in half and squeeze the juice over the papaya spears. Use your hands to coat the fruit in the lime juice.
- Spread the coconut flakes on a plate. Roll each papaya spear in the coconut flakes. If you’d like to add a little spice sprinkle a pinch of cayenne pepper over the spears.
- Offer the papaya spears on a plate for your child to pick up independently or hand a spear in the air for easier grabbing. Eat alongside your child to show how it’s done!
- Store ripe papaya that has been skinned and cut will keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Ripe papaya is sweet with a soft, smooth texture that melts in your mouth. To play up the sweetness, pair with other tropical fruits like banana, kiwi, or mango, or balance it with tart flavor from lemon, lime, pomegranate, or tamarind. Ripe papaya also tastes delicious with creamy foods like cashew, coconut, feta cheese, ricotta cheese, or yogurt and with savory flavors from avocado, black beans, or corn.
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT
S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. (allergy section)
R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist
- Santana, L. F., Inada, A. C., Espirito Santo, B., Filiú, W., Pott, A., Alves, F. M., Guimarães, R., Freitas, K. C., & Hiane, P. A. (2019). Nutraceutical Potential of Carica papaya in Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients, 11(7), 1608.
- Adebiyi, A., Adaikan, P.G., Prasad, R.N. (2002). Papaya (Carica papaya) consumption is unsafe in pregnancy: fact or fable? Scientific evaluation of a common belief in some parts of Asia using a rat model. British Journal of Nutrition, 88(2),199-203. DOI:10.1079/BJNBJN2002598. Retrieved November 2, 2020
- Oderinde, O., Noronha, C., Oremosu, A., Kusemiju, T., Okanlawon, O.A. (2002). Abortifacient properties of aqueous extract of Carica papaya (Linn) seeds on female Sprague-Dawley rats. The Nigerian postgraduate medical journal, 9(2), 95–98. Retrieved November 2, 2020
- Abreu, P.M., Antunes, T.F., Magaña-Álvarez, A., Pérez-Brito, D., Tapia-Tussell, R., et al. (2015). A current overview of the Papaya meleira virus, an unusual plant virus. Viruses, 7(4), 1853–1870. DOI:10.3390/v7041853. Retrieved November 2, 2020
- European Food Safety Authority. (2018). The 2016 European Union report on pesticide residues in food. EFSA journal. European Food Safety Authority, 16(7), e05348. DOI:10.2903/j.efsa.2018.5348. Retrieved November 2, 2020
- National Institute of Health. (2018). Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed): Papaya. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Retrieved November 2, 2002
- Jiang, N., Yin, J., Wen, L. (2016). Papain Induced Occupational Asthma with Kiwi and Fig Allergy. Allergy, asthma & immunology research, 8(2), 170–173. DOI:10.4168/aair.2016.8.2.170. Retrieved November 2, 2020