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Pawpaws - "Tropical" Fruit Native to Midwest U.S.

Updated on November 3, 2012

Cluster of Pawpaw fruit hanging from tree

Courtesy of plant scientist Neal Peterson who has documented pawpaws for more than three decades. This is a cluster of pawpaws hanging from a tree.
Courtesy of plant scientist Neal Peterson who has documented pawpaws for more than three decades. This is a cluster of pawpaws hanging from a tree. | Source

Pawpaw - a unique fruit

Regular hikers of the Potomac River in Washington D.C. have long eaten a fruit grown along its riverbanks that most other Americans have never even heard of -- the pawpaw!

Sure, some people may recall a nursery rhyme with "paw paw patch" in its verse. And others may have heard of towns, lakes, rivers and creeks named Paw Paw, or the passing mention of a pawpaw festival. Yet, most probably do not even know what a pawpaw actually is.


Pawpaws - Packed with Nutrients

High in:

  • vitamin C
  • magnesium
  • iron
  • copper
  • manganese

Good Source of:

  • potassium
  • essential amino acids

Contain significant amounts of:

  • riboflavin
  • niacin
  • calcium
  • phosphorus
  • zinc

Pawpaw trees are native to the U.S.

A pawpaw (Asimina Triloba) is actually a fruit, and it is one with a rich history in the United States. Natively, the pawpaw or papaw is grown in the temperate woodlands along the eastern region of the country. American Indians are credited with spreading the fruit farther into the land, with pawpaw trees grown as far west as eastern Kansas and Texas, as far north as the Great Lakes region, and as far south as the gulf coast.

The pawpaw (papaw) fruit:

  • is the largest edible fruit grown in the United States
  • weighs about 5-16 oz. and is 3-6 inches in length
  • has two rows with 10-14 seeds each inside
  • grows in clusters (like bananas) with up to 8 individual fruit


"Wow" seems to be a very common expression for people who have been lucky enough to take a bite of this seemingly-rare fruit.


The taste of a pawpaw (papaw) has been described as:

  • sweet as a strawberry
  • a cross between a banana and a papaya
  • a cross between a banana and an apple
  • like a creamy custard with a tropical flavor


Pawpaw - A Fuit with Many Names

This fruit has many names and multiple spellings, including:

  • pawpaw (pronounced paw-paw)
  • papaw (pronounced puh-paw)
  • poor man's banana
  • hoosier banana
  • michigan banana
  • prairie banana
  • custard apple


Difficulty in commercializing Pawpaws

While pawpaws are indigenous to the U.S., and there are even fossils to prove it, most people have never tasted this fruit, let alone heard of it. But, why? It seems that papaw trees are not necessarily the easiest trees to grow, requiring 400 hours of cool winter temperatures, about 160 frost-free days, in addition to a humid climate.

But beyond that, the pawpaw fruit that is produced is rather fragile and, therefore, has not been commercialized like so many other fruits that are readily available at grocery stores.


Farmers have found it difficult to commercialize pawpaws since:

  • pawpaws have thin skins and are fragile to ship
  • pawpaws need to ripen on the tree
  • pawpaws are best when used within 2-3 days of being harvested


Watch the video: "The Pawpaw: Foraging for America's Fruit"

This is an excellent video! Go on a hike and discover the pawpaw in Virginia with NPR's food correspondent, Allison Aubrey.
This is an excellent video! Go on a hike and discover the pawpaw in Virginia with NPR's food correspondent, Allison Aubrey. | Source

Finding Pawpaws...


Buy Fresh Pawpaws Online:

Pawpaw Festivals:

Neal Peterson's Six Varieties of Pawpaw Trees:

Where to buy Pawpaws

Neal Peterson has been breeding pawpaws for 35 years, and although this fruit is not commercially available, it can sometimes be purchased locally at farmers markets and at festivals towards the end of September and possibly as late as November. An online Michigan retailer of wild foods will ship pawpaws when they're in season.

While some people choose to plant their own trees, it will taken time for them to mature to produce fruit. A Kentucky State University pawpaw program is available in order to help people grow papaw trees successfully in their own back yards!


Pawpaw & Lime Sorbet

Pawpaw lime sorbet is one of the many types of recipes that use pawpaw as an ingredient.
Pawpaw lime sorbet is one of the many types of recipes that use pawpaw as an ingredient. | Source

Pawpaw Recipes

This wonder fruit can be used in a wide variety of recipes to make items like:

  • ice cream, sorbet and sherbet
  • jam and preserves
  • bread, muffins, cookies and cakes
  • pie, custard and puddings


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    • oldiesmusic profile image

      oldiesmusic 4 years ago from United States

      I've never heard of pawpaw before. Reading you description about how it tastes like, I think I'm going to like it, it sounds delicious. Unfortunately, it's hard to come by. Thanks for posting.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Just an aside note...I have heard some southerners addressing their grandfathers with wording that sounds like pawpaw. Not sure if they would spell it that way or if it is just their pronunciation of the word.

    • ktrapp profile image
      Author

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Sally. I'm so glad you had the chance to watch the video. They did an excellent job making it. I'm curious to know what happened to the pawpaw trees in that county. They seem to be plentiful in parts of Ohio, though. Good luck pawpaw hunting!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      The NPR video was super! I have never tasted a pawpaw, but they used to be a staple for the Ohio side of my family up until the 1930s or so. For reasons unknown or not remembered, the pawpaw trees disappeared from their county. Your Hub is a real inspiration...I'm going pawpaw hunting!

    • ktrapp profile image
      Author

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Randomcreative - I'm glad to have been able to provide you with some new information.

      Cloverleaf - The recipe with the pawpaw and lime sorbet gets me drooling.

    • ktrapp profile image
      Author

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Hey Howard - There's no need to be embarrassed; at least you have heard of a pawpaw before, unlike most of us.

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Hi ktrapp, I haven't eaten a pawpaw fruit before, but the sound of a creamy custard tropical flavor just got me drooling! I'm going to look out for them. Thanks for this great hub, voting up and interesting :-)

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I had never heard of this fruit before! Fascinating. Thanks for all of the detailed information about it.

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      This one caught me flat-footed. I think I always assumed pawpaw was another name for papaya, which I know from living in the topics. I also find it somewhat embarrassing because native horticulture was a hobby of mine for awhile.

    • ktrapp profile image
      Author

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Cousin Fudd - If WNC stands for western North Carolina then you may be able to find this fruit. Forsythe county (not sure where that is exactly) even has a pawpaw festival annually in August. I think this year was the 4th one.

    • ktrapp profile image
      Author

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Peggy - Thank you Peggy. This is what I love about HubPages - you can always stumble across something new.

      Don - I know you grew up in the Virginia area, if you're still around there you should be able to find papaws at farmer's markets. They were a favorite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and I think Jefferson named the Paw Paw valley after this fruit.

    • profile image

      Cousin Fudd 6 years ago

      Thanks for a great hub. I didn't know these actually existed and thought they were only a fruit in the Lil Abner movie and cartoons;however there might be a local name for them here in WNC.

    • Don Bobbitt profile image

      Don Bobbitt 6 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Great Hub! I loved it! Gotta find one to eat! Voted Up and interesting.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      An informative hub about a fruit of which I was unfamiliar and which (obviously) I have never tasted. Hope I get the chance someday! Up and useful.