Don't be surprised if you have never heard of pawpaw, this fruit is native to North America and doesn't have the popularity of other produce such as apples and pears. It comes from the largest edible fruit tree on the continent and offers those lucky enough to eat it a bright, tropical flavor. To get this fruit, you have to find it first, something you can do after gaining more understanding of the pawpaw's nuances.
What Is Pawpaw?
When we talk about wild fruit in the United States and Canada most people don't know about pawpaw, the largest fruit wild in these areas. It's indigenous to 26 states, from Nebraska to Florida and all the way to Ontario in Canada. On the outside, it's green with darkish speckles and unremarkable on many accounts. However, inside the flesh is either a creamy whitish-taupe or brighter yellow, and large dark seeds are speckled about.
This unique fruit belongs to the family of custard apples, think guanábana, sugar apple, and soursop, and typically would grow in the more temperate climates of South America and the West Indies. Yet here we are with the tropical pawpaw trees thriving in Ohio and Kentucky. The theory holds that this tree sprouted when the planet was warmer and North America more pleasing to the tree's needs. Animals around the area ate the fruits and spread the seeds, and in select pockets of the country, the plant has continued to grow.
Famously pawpaws were eaten by the team on the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the early 1900s, pawpaw was one of the most popular fall fruits around, and it was voted as "most likely to succeed" by agricultural experts. Sometime after that, this tropical-tasting ingredient fell out of favor, and out of our minds. Lately, there has been a mild revival of the pawpaw with researchers, food lovers, and plant breeders interested in finding out how to keep the soft, yellowish fruit relevant. There's even the annual Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio, each September, going on over 22 years. So though it's not as beloved as it once was, the pawpaw appears to be having a resurgence.
What to Do With Pawpaw
The best thing to do if you happen upon ripe pawpaw is to eat it, peeling away the dull shell, discarding the large brown seeds, and enjoying the malleable flesh. It works well in desserts too, especially puddings and ice cream. You can often use pawpaw to replace bananas, and in some regions, this fruit is even known as the "poor man's banana." Try it in a cream pie or fruity bread. Also, at that aforementioned festival in Ohio, craft brewers also use pawpaw to make some unique beers that get served at the fete and in local bars.
What Does Pawpaw Taste Like?
Imagine if you smooshed a banana with a kiwi and a mango, and you would get something similar to the taste of pawpaw. It's a tropical fruit with a slightly bitter aftertaste but pleasant zing upon the first bite. The tangy flesh proves soft and pliable, easy to chew and slurp up right from the peel.
The best thing to do with pawpaw is to eat it raw. That said, there aren't a ton of recipes floating around, but you can try subbing the ingredient where banana is called for.
Where to Buy Pawpaw
It's not easy to find pawpaw, it's a rare and exotic fruit that doesn't cultivate as well as others. It's also delicate and tends to bruise easily, so it's not the best for shipping or grocery store shelves. One of the only places to export pawpaw is Earthly Delights, and it's not cheap, running about $45 for three pounds, plus shipping costs.
If you happen to be in the Midwest or Mid-Atlantic regions in September and early October, check out the local farmers' markets—your best bet to try this fruit. Or, find someone who knows where to look for the green clusters and book a foraging expedition.
You don't really want to store pawpaw for long, it's not a fruit that lasts well off the tree. If you do happen across some of the fruit, leave it in the shell until ready to eat. You can also remove the flesh and keep it in the refrigerator in a sealed container for a few days. But overall, eat the pawpaws you get right away.
Nutrition and Benefits
This is one of the fattier fruits, something you can tell just by tasting the rich flesh. But while the unsaturated fats prevail, so does the amino acid content and a high amount of vitamin C, riboflavin, calcium, potassium, protein, magnesium, and iron. In essence, it's a great food to eat not only because it tastes good, but it's got a lot of good nutrients and minerals inside as well.
Pawpaw fruit trees, or Asimina triloba, all stem from the original wild plant, a short, hearty, pest-resistant tree. Over the years, scientists have created some hybrids with names such as Sunflower, Taylor, Taytwo, Mary Foos Johnson, Mitchel, Davis, and Rebecca Gold. If you happen upon pawpaws chances are they won't have any other name than the original, so seeking out varieties isn't as fulfilling as when you shop for apples.
No, pawpaw is not the same as papaya, though that tropical fruit is sometimes called pawpaw too. In fact, the two aren't even related.