PawPaw Info

What is a Pawpaw?

Pawpaw is a small understory tree native to the eastern United States. In fact, it is found in 23 states, often along river bottoms, but also commonly in upland areas. Pawpaw has been around for hundreds of thousands of years in North America. The pawpaw fruit was known to be a food staple for Native Americans and is eaten by numerous wildlife species. Early settlers relied on pawpaw, too, as a natural source of wild fruit, well before introduction of other fruits to this country. The pawpaw is the largest native fruit in North America.

Some refer to pawpaw as North American pawpaw to avoid confusion with fruit like papaya, which have been called pawpaw. In the native forest setting, it may grow 20 or 30 feet, but is usually much smaller. The fruit in the native setting are about 3-4 inches long, and when ripe, have a custard-like texture, often described as tasting like banana or mango. Hence, the variety of nicknames such as “Indiana Banana, Hillbilly Mango, and Hipster Banana.”

Pawpaw fruit is native to parts of Ohio, it isn’t found in the wild in north central Ohio. In Ohio, pawpaw can be found throughout the southeastern, southwestern, and northwestern locales, but here in north central Ohio it isn’t found unless cultivated. While many have at least heard of pawpaw, most have not had the treat of eating pawpaw unless they walk the fall woodlands to find wild fruit.

What Do Pawpaw Fruit Look Like & When Do They Ripen?

Pawpaws raised in the orchard are regularly 4-5 inches long, weigh about ½ pound (or more) and sport a light green skin color. The pulp is typically pale yellow to orange colored, depending on the variety. Today, there are many varieties available which have differing ripening times and flavors. In our orchard, pawpaws begin ripening in late August, extending throughout September, often stretching into early and mid-October. As expected, weather is key in determining when pawpaws ripen, with cool summers delaying ripening.

What Can I do with Pawpaws?

Most pawpaws are eaten as they are. While pawpaws are quite delectable, there are a few things you should know before eating them. First, the fruit has a thin skin that should not be eaten and second, don’t eat the seeds. Cut the pawpaw in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and then scoop out the pulp with a spoon. While they are great chilled, pawpaw pulp freezes well and can be used for your favorite cookie, cake, pie, and bread recipes. They can easily be used to reduce or replace the added sugars in recipes. Pawpaw is a great substitute for bananas or zucchini in breads!

Are Pawpaws Nutritious?

Pawpaws are well known to contain a large variety of phytonutrients, which are plant produced compounds that work as antioxidants, among other benefits. Pawpaw fruit is high in protein, vitamin C, and a variety of minerals. Some of the reasons for the high amounts of beneficial compounds likely relate to the fact that cultivated pawpaw hasn’t undergone any significant genetic manipulation, with most named varieties being selections from wild trees or random crosses, and not the result of genetic manipulation. This means genetic diversity is preserved when compared to wild trees. In addition, plants allowed to undergo natural environmental stress during the growing season will result in higher levels of phytonutrients and antioxidants. This holds true for pawpaws as they can be grown without pesticides, which means they will experience many natural and competitive stresses leading to high nutrient content.

Why Can’t I Find Pawpaws at the Grocery Store?

First, although pawpaw is native to parts of Ohio, it isn’t found in the wild in north central Ohio. In Ohio, pawpaw can be found throughout the southeastern, southwestern, and northwestern locales, but here in north central Ohio it isn’t found unless cultivated. While many have at least heard of pawpaw, most have not had the treat of eating pawpaw unless they walk the fall woodlands to find wild fruit.

Secondly, there are relatively few growers of pawpaw. Along this line, pawpaws are somewhat finicky to cultivate and take about 8-10 years to begin bearing fruit. Fruit ripening must begin while the fruit is on the tree, and once started must be harvested within 1-2 days, and not allowed to “drop” from the tree to the ground. Furthermore, once harvested the fruit needs to be used quickly or pulped, although they will last for 1-2 weeks refrigerated. These and other reasons contribute to the difficulty of finding fruit in stores.

Are Pesticides Used in Growing Pawpaws?

Pawpaws have no significant native insect pests and while there are some fungi that live on pawpaw, they don’t seem to cause significant problems and do not seem to harm the trees or fruit, although there may be exceptions. Given these facts, pawpaws lend themselves to the type of holistic practices we use in our orchard. No insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides are used growing pawpaws at West View Pawpaw Farm.