Is the crunchy fruit used to make Thai green papaya salad a different fruit from the soft orange papaya you find at the supermarket?
Though very different in taste, texture, and appearance, green and orange papaya are actually the same fruit picked at different stages of development. The tender, creamy, orange-fleshed papaya is harvested when fully mature (though the exterior may still be green). Tasters described it as “sweet,” “melon-y,” and even somewhat “cheesy.” Because it is very low in acid, it is often spritzed with lime juice to provide balance.
Immature green papaya has crisp white flesh with very little flavor. It is prized mostly for its crunch and used primarily as a base for salads, most notably in the Thai classic som tam, where it serves as a bland backdrop for the powerful flavors of chile, lime, garlic, and fish sauce. Tasters characterized green papaya as “clean-tasting” and “like cucumber or jícama”; in fact, jícama and seeded cucumber make good substitutes if green papaya is unavailable.