Creme de papaya, creme de mamão, or papaya cream in English, is a Brazilian dessert that was created in the late 1980s and was very popular throughout the 1990s in Brazil. Although it is not as popular nowadays, it is still on the menu of most restaurants, including Brazilian churrascarias in the US and other countries.
This luscious and very easy to make dessert consists of fresh papaya that is blended with vanilla ice cream until reaching a smooth consistency. Crème de cassis, a sweet liquor made with blackcurrants, is usually added, but a non-alcoholic blackcurrant syrup can also be used.
Papaya has different names across the globe. It is often called pawpaw in Australia and England, or kapaya, kepaya, lapaya or tapaya in southern Asia and the East Indies. In Spanish countries, it is called melón zapote, lechosa, payaya, fruta bomba, mamón or mamona. The word for papaya in Brazilian Portuguese is mamão, which literally means “large breast” (or even “big tits”). It seemed that this name was given to the fruit because of the resemblance between the shape of a papaya and a female breast. It’s going to be hard not to think about this the next time I bite into this fruit!
The spread of papaya started around 1500, when the Spanish conquerors carried seeds to Panama and the Dominican Republic. During the following century, Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors took the seeds to the Philippines, Malaysia and India. In Brazil, it became known in the early seventeenth century in Bahia. Then, the seeds were taken from India to Naples in Italy. The crop reached Hawaii between 1800 and 1820, and in 1900, papaya seeds were taken to Florida, probably from Bahamas’ plantations.
Brazil has now become one of the most important growers and exporters of papaya along with Central American countries, but also India and Nigeria. Originally from southern Mexico, Central America, as well as northern South America, papaya is now cultivated in most tropical countries as it is very sensitive to low temperatures and frost.
The largest plantations in Brazil can be found in the state of Espírito Santo and in the northeast part of the country. Thanks to the climate of these regions, papaya can be produced and offered to consumers year-round.
Papaya is a great source of Vitamin A, B and C. It is commonly used as a meat tenderizer but it is also used to ferment liquors, and as soap for washing clothes. Papaya possesses a number of medicinal benefits, including contributing to weight loss or lowering cholesterol.
Brazilian papaya has a soft and very aromatic flesh. The skin is typically thin, smooth and fairly tough, sticking to the flesh, with a dark-green color that becomes orange when the fruit is ripe. The varieties of Golden, Formosa and Calimosa (a crossing between Golden and Formosa) are the most common in Brazil.
In Brazil, papaya is not only often consumed as is, but it is also often incorporated into ice creams as in today’s crème de papaya recipe, juices, fruit drinks, smoothies, compotes (typically made with green papaya similar to the papaya and coconut jam Vera made when we traveled to Tuvalu), but also savory and sweet salads, in the same spirit as som tam salad from Thailand that Vera shared with us a couple years ago.
Besides food, papaya is also widely used in cosmetics, including in facemasks, makeup creams or shampoos.
The tree-like plant, which produces papayas, has a single stem that can grow up to 30 feet tall. It is called carica papaya and has large leaves that are confined to the top of the tree. Fruits are produced year-round.
The carica papaya tree has masculine, feminine, and hermaphroditic flowers. The masculine flowers produce a pear-shaped fruit that is not sold. The feminine flowers produce fruits that are round and have little pulp, that have also very low commercial value. The hermaphroditic flowers produce the most desirable fruits. Those fruits are long with lots of juicy pulp. Yes, “transgender breasts” are apparently the tastiest fruit!
If you buy a green papaya, you can wrap it in newspaper or a paper bag until it is ripe. Once it is ripe, the fruit can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.
Although creme de papaya is probably one of the most famous Brazilian desserts today, other sweet delicacies are just as common and delicious in the country:
– Banana frusta com canella angular – fried banana topped with cinnamon sugar.
– Bolo de milho carioca – Carioca corn cake.
– Passion fruit mousse cake
– Quindin, mini coconut flans
– Brigadeiro, chocolate truffle
I prepared this creme de papaya for a weekday dinner we enjoyed on our rooftop with our friend Laurence, her mother and her daughter. The kids were too busy playing and riding after dinner to enjoy the dessert but most of the adults liked the dessert, maybe because I had poured a little more crème de cassis on top of ours? 😉
- 1 lb ripe papaya (about half of a medium size papaya)
- 3 scoops vanilla ice cream
- 6 tablespoons crème de cassis
Peel the papaya. Remove the seeds and roughly chop.
Put the papaya in a blender, add the vanilla ice cream and mix at high speed for a 1 to 2 minutes until reaching a smooth consistency.
Pour into individual glass cups or bowls and top with crème de cassis.