Papaya is a mainstay on tropical buffets in exotic locations. You don't have to cruise to the Bahamas to enjoy one, though. Choose one from your supermarket that's ripe and ready to eat.

  • Smooth, unblemished skin
  • Softness; it should yield to gentle pressure from your hands
  • Deep yellow hue freckled with green specks

A papaya will ripen after purchase as it has a high production of ethylene, a gas emitted from the fruit that encourages ripening. Keep in mind that if you place it next to other fruits, such as bananas and avocados, these will ripen more quickly due to the ethylene. Ripen a papaya on the counter. Once ripe, papayas stay

fresh in the refrigerator for about one week

. In Asian cuisine,

unripe papaya is treated like a vegetable

. Shred it into a tangy salad accented with peanuts, lime juice and cilantro or include it in pad Thai. Unripe papaya, or green papaya, is -- as its name suggests -- bright green. You'll find papayas meant to be served green alongside potatoes and taro root at a specialty store. When choosing, look for a

firm fruit without blotches or softness

. Store it in the refrigerator, wrapped in a towel inside a plastic produce bag, for up to two weeks. Avoid fruit that has a fermented odor or is overly soft -- look for a slight yield, not one that is completely squishy. Wrinkled skin is another clue that the papaya is past its prime.