The word for papaya in Brazilian Portuguese is mamão, which literally means "large breast" or a bit more vulgarly "big tit." According to etymological dictionaries, this name was given to the fruit because of the resemblance between the shape of a papaya and a human breast. I have a feeling that the name was nostalgically applied by the early Portuguese explorers of Brazil, who were often restricted to all-male company in the early years of colonization.
The fruit itself is a New World species, and botanical paleontologists think that it probably originated in Mexico. It had spread throughout the American tropics, however, long before the arrival of Europeans. It thrives today in almost every tropical area of the world, but only there, as it is highly sensitive to frost. The tree-like plant on which it grows has both male and female individuals, and both are required for fertilization.
Normally the mamão formosa is much cheaper than mamão papaia, at least in my home city of Fortaleza. Compared to North America, where papaya is an exotic and high-priced fruit, all papayas are cheap in Brazil, but the mamão formosa is especially so. For most of the year it's price in the local supermarket is about R$0.80 to $R1.00/kg. That works out to approximately USD $0.50 to $0.60/kg or somewhere between 22 and 27 cents per pound. The mamão papaia is usually about 2.5 or 3 times more expensive, but at that price it's still below a dollar per pound.
Eating papaya is primarily associated with breakfast in Brazil, and it's as much a part of breakfast as is coffee or bread. I rarely start the day without a large piece of papaya. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week once it's ripe, and preparing a simple piece of the fruit, with a wedge of lime to sprinkle over, is quick and easy and can be done by the time the water is boiling for the coffee. There are some specific Brazilian recipes for the fruit, however, and the next couple of posts on Flavors of Brazil will feature the papaya. You can find an earlier papaya recipe from this blog by clicking here.