A popular item in the Dominican diet which is not always everyone’s favourite is the papaya, known in the DR as ‘lechoza’. And most popularly consumed in this delicious batida de lechoza (papaya milkshake). Several countries in the region seem to shy away from the word papaya, which has – it appears – other connotations. Venezuelans also call it ‘lechoza’, and the Cubans ‘fruta bomba’. In English it is also known as ‘pawpaw’.
I am a huge fan of lechoza. At the risk of being excessively poetic or even cheesy, I would describe the subtle flavour of lechoza as the taste-bud equivalent of inhaling the gentle perfume of a fragrant rose. Others may challenge this. In contrast, I have heard that some find the smell and taste reminiscent of vomit. This just shows that there is no accounting for taste.
Brought over from Central America by the Spaniards in the early 16th century, lechoza grows very easily in the Dominican Republic. The plant – which is technically a herb – is very hardy, and is one of the main items on the fruit vendor’s cart. It is bought whole, or peeled and sectioned for consumption on the street. It is also popular as a fruit shake, with or without milk. I myself eat it sliced and chopped, for breakfast, usually combined with a banana and a couple of passion fruits.
In Venezuela, where I first came across lechoza, people squeeze a little lime juice over the fruit as a tangy counterpoint to the soft flavour. This works very well in the fruit shake as well, although I would hesitate to add lime juice to the milky version.
Some of the health benefits of lechoza are well-known. It is alkaline, contains digestive enzymes which help balance stomach acid, and is often recommended for people who suffer from acidity and indigestion. In more extreme cases like gastric infections and intestinal parasites it is said to be an excellent remedy, providing you eat the black seeds together with the flesh of the fruit. It is also used to prevent and treat constipation. Lechoza is rich in vitamin A, B complex, C and potassium, and is low in fat and sodium. It has tenderising properties and so the skin or the green fruit is used in the preparation of meat and fish.A more obscure use is in the treatment of flesh wounds. The fruit apparently cleans out the dead material in infected flesh when applied to an injury. This technique is possibly consigned to medical history but could come in useful if you are unfortunate enough to hurt yourself while away from medical attention, providing there is a lechoza handy. It is also effective in soothing insect and jellyfish stings.
It is fairly easy to choose a good papaya, and even if green it will ripen quickly at room temperature. To speed up the process you can carve some long notches along the surface of the skin with a fine sharp knife. Putting some citrus fruit in the bowl together with the unripe fruit also works wonders. Once it is soft and mainly yellow/orange coloured, it must be refrigerated and eaten within a couple of days.
Ah, another hot day in the tropics. This is a good time for a papaya milkshake, don’t you think?
Batida de Lechoza will make an incredibly delicious snack both for kids and grown ups. It is probably the most popular fruit juice in the Dominican Republic. And for a good reason.
- 3 cups of papaya cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 3 cups ice cubes
- 1 qrt evaporated milk
- 1 cup sugar
- Put all the ingredients in the blender and keep on at high speed until the ice is blended.
- Serve immediately.
If you want a lighter alternative use skim milk in place of evaporated milk. For a vegan shake use soy milk or your preferred milk substitute.