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What’s a Pawpaw Taste Like?  And Where Can You Find One?
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011 by eNature
Pawpaw Fruit
Pawpaw Fruit
Range of Common Pawpaw
Range of Common Pawpaw
© USDA

Pawpaw season will arrive soon in the Eastern US. 

So just what is a pawpaw, other than something many of us sang about as children?

And what the heck does one taste like?

It’s actually an interesting story…

The Common Pawpaw is the northernmost New World representative of a chiefly tropical family, which includes the popular tropical fruits Annona, Custard-apple, Sugar-apple, and Soursop.  It produces the largest edible fruit indigenous to North America.

The plant has large oblong leaves and many observers think it looks like a tropical plant, although it is native to over 25 states in the eastern U.S.  It’s generally found in patches in well-drained, deep, fertile bottom-land and hilly upland habitat.

The wild fruit was once harvested, but the supply has now decreased greatly due to the clearing of forests. The small crop is generally consumed only by wildlife, such as opossums, squirrels, raccoons, and birds. Attempts have been made to cultivate Common Pawpaw as a fruit tree but it’s not commonly found under cultivation.

The pawpaw is an understory tree, often appearing more like a bush than a tree, with fruit found singly or more often in clusters much like bananas.  It doesn’t self-polinate, so other pawpaw plants need to be in the vicinity for it to produce fruit.

And from all reports, the fruit is quite tasty to humans with a sweet-smelling, creamy flesh that tastes like a blend of papaya, banana, mango and pineapple.

One other interesting fact about the Pawpaw is that it’s the host plant for the caterpillar of the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, which eats its leaves.

The name Common Pawpaw is from the Arawakan name of Papaya, an unrelated tropical American fruit.  The plant was first recorded by the DeSoto expedition in the lower Mississippi Valley in 1541.

Ever encountered a pawpaw?  How did it taste to you?

Please share your stories below— we always love to hear them.

 

Learn more about the Pawpaw in eNature's field guide »

Here's an interesting story about cultivating pawpaws »

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Comments

My sister has a second home in the North Georgia Mountains (Morganton, GA).  She bought the place back in 1999 from an elderly couple who had owned it for 14 years prior to selling it to my sister. She has a pawpaw tree in her yard and the pawpaws get pretty big.  We have never tried to eat them.  I wasn’t sure you could but now that I know they are edible we will try them.  Thanks!

Posted by Shelby Steele on 8/11

There is wide variety in the taste of pawpaw. Even more than bananas, the flavor of individual fruit changes as it ripens, from being fruity to being more like caramel custard. And some wild pawpaw just doesn’t seem to taste good at all.

Good pawpaw, however, can be like finding a frozen custard stand in the middle of the woods.

Posted by Joe on 8/11

Here’s a good article about the Michigan Paw Paw.  We even have a city in Michigan named for it! grin

http://briarpatchoutdoors.educationforthesoul.com/articles/pawpaw.html

Posted by Heather on 8/11

I have eaten Pawpaws, and it tastes like the small yellow mangos I had in Cancun.  We had them on our farm when I was a child, and the cattle loved them.

Posted by Terry Kennedy on 8/11

I grew up eating wild Pawpaw, common in the Southern West Virginia hills.  I loved the taste, which was a lot like bananas, but they were a minor nuisance to eat because the edible fruit is intersperced throughout with seeds you needed to spit out.  I never felt like I could get a good, satisfying bite of the fruit.

Posted by Glenn Neal on 8/11

What is the nutitional value of the pawpaw?

Posted by SueT on 8/11

For years, during off-duty hours from reserve duty at Langley Air Force Base, Hampton, Va., I would hike across National Park Service land at Yorktown, Va., often searching for pawpaw fruit before squirrels got the same. The pawpaw is also the host plant for one of the continent’s most beautiful butterflies, the Zebra Swallowtail. About a decade ago, I planted two pawpaw trees in my Pennsylvania backyard. The fruit is delicious, tasting like banana custard.

Posted by Alan Gregory on 8/11

There is a narrowleaf species of pawpaw found in NW Florida (Asimina angustifolia) with similar delicious fruit.  If you have difficulty identifying it if it does not have fruit, tear one of the leaves up and smell.  Many people believe it smells like sliced green tomatoes; others believe it smells like sliced green bell peppers.

Posted by EdL on 8/11

when I lived in New Windsor Maryland. I Planted. paw paw trees,the fruit was the closest tasting to chirimoya which I love and could not find. The paw paws along with the persimon tree always demanded attention from passerbys.

Posted by leonor on 8/11

Several years back, we planted a male pawpaw in our courtyard.  Then a little later we found a female pawpaw and planted that one also, in our courtyard.  Again this year, we will have fruit.  It has been so fun watching how these trees grow and develop fruit.  We live in Texas, near Dallas, and the entire world knows how hot it has been.  Our courtyard is sheltered from most of the southerly winds, facing north west. the pawpaws are under larger, but not overly shaded trees and rose bushes.  Each time I admire them, I remember the area around PawPaw, West Virginia, near where my parents once lived.

Posted by Johanna Ash on 8/11

I live in Morgan County, Illinois.  A few ago I met an older man who was apparently a great conservationalist and had made many plantings on his property.  While attending his estate sale I saw what I was told was a PawPaw tree that had fruit on it.  I had always thought PawPaws existed only in the nursery rhyme! Of course I had to pick and taste one!  I thought it tasted most similar to a banana.

Posted by Patti Henry on 8/11

Technically what you show in the top figure are two fruitlets composing one fruit. Each flower has several pistils each of which can develop into a fruitlet. In the Annona fruits they fuse.

Posted by J. E. Armstrong, Prof. of Botany on 8/11

Here in West Virginia we always referred to PawPaws as “West Virginia bananas. My grandfather loved them.

Posted by Jim on 8/11

How do you know when the pawpaw is ripe?  How do you open them or do you just cut them open?

Posted by Shelby on 8/11

When the PawPaws become soft to the touch and also when they develope dark spots on them then that is an indication that they are ripe…

Posted by Jim on 8/11

Whoops…you can cut them open with a knife or just squeeze them open…just the insides are the edible part

Posted by Jim on 8/11

Pawpaws have a nice scent when they are ripe.

Posted by Terry on 8/11

When I wa five or six we visited my grandparents in Kentucky.  Among my memories of that visit is the pawpaw bush in the front yard - I loved to hide under it!  I recall the fruit tasting rather like a banana custard.

Posted by Sara on 8/11

I heard the flowers smell like decaying meat. I’m a beekeeper. Bees go to nice smells. Filth flies go to nastiness. Anyone ever smell the flowers, or see insects on them?

Posted by Rob on 8/11

When I was growing up I remember my grandpa bring home a pale of pawpaw fruit after a fishing trip. I remember they tasted like a very ripe banana but with a firmer texture. Sweet and with just a hint of citrus in the aftertaste. If I could find a patch I’d raid it every year based on that one memory!

Posted by Doug on 8/11

Back in the 50’s my Aunt Vera lived in Paw Paw, Illinois. I always thought they were just from the silly song until one time she brought us some. It’s been a long time ago but is seemed they tasted like over ripe banana’s. Thanks enature for prompting that memory. oldbuck

Posted by oldbuck on 8/11

My husband and younger son like the taste of pawpaws, but my older son and I think it’s more disgusting than durian (actually, if I hold my nose to eat it, durian is rather tasty).  We have some pawpaw trees growing on our property, but we rarely get any since the wild animals always get to them first.

Posted by Teresa on 8/11

If you Google Peterson Pawpaws, there is a website with lots of information from a fellow named Neal Peterson, who pursued his Master’s degree in plant genetics.  He has a vast amount of knowledge about pawpaws, and there are several links for more info.  We have e-mailed a few times, and he is now retired.  This is the best site I have seen regarding pawpaws.

Posted by Terry Kennedy on 8/11

It’s a Gingko tree that has a nasty smell.  I didn’t notice any bad smell from the PawPaw tree.

Posted by Patti Henry on 8/11

I found your website perfect for my needs. It contains wonderful and helpful posts. I have read most of them and got a lot from them.
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Posted by Discount Britney Spears Tickets on 8/11

Are the seeds edible too?

Posted by stvee on 8/12

I don’t believe the seeds are edible by humans.  They are quite large and hard.  I have a friend that says the pawpaw blooms smell bad.

Glad the Neal Peterson site helped you.  It is the best one I’ve found.

Posted by Terry Kennedy on 8/12

There were paw-paw trees and fruit all over the ground when my wife and I toured the Antietam Civil War battlefield back in 1988.  We picked one up and tried it: sweet and juicy and delicious.  I wish there were some available for sale in the stores…

Posted by Lou on 8/12

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Posted by Timy on 8/12

I will be going to a pawpaw patch next week.  The fruit are ripe in TN this time of year.  I am also going to dig some of the shoots and try planting them on my farm.  My mouth is watering thinking of the ripe fruit!

Posted by Terry Kennedy on 8/12

Really it is nice post, The post is clearly highlighting the values of law. It is now being necessary for all of us to understand law and its values.
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Posted by Jhon on 8/13

I live in Connecticut; there is a PawPaw tree a few blocks from here; I will ask the owner of the land if I can get some fruit; PawPaw is a native american fruit tree; grows wild in the woods…I read this from a poster:

The pawpaw is also the host plant for one of the continent’s most beautiful butterflies, the Zebra Swallowtail.

thanks for the info; the silky milkweed is the host plant for the beautiful Monarch Butterflies;

this is why Native plants should be encouraged…!

Posted by Anne on 8/15

I also liked this poster:

Good pawpaw, however, can be like finding a frozen custard stand in the middle of the woods.

I think the PawPaw is a cousin of the Guayanaba Fruit the Tropics; noted for curative properties;

I am sure PawPaw has many curative qualities; etc.

Posted by Anne on 8/15

I’ve read it’s being used with cancer patients.

Posted by Terry Kennedy on 8/15

A year or two after moving to the country in 1975, on 10 acres at the edge of the MO River valley, we found pawpaw trees on our property. They were covered with dozens if not hundreds of pawpaws! We enjoyed eating a few and expected that year to be typical. It was not.
  We lived there until 1992. Since then, we’ve lived on 30 acres three miles up in the hills from the MO River. We have pawpaws here, too. Not once since that year in the mid-70s have we seen such a pawpaw crop! We are lucky to find a few or any at all.

Posted by PatrickLee (akaTh:Jefferson) on 8/16

The Flint Farmers Market (Flint, Michigan) has pawpaws for sale!  One farmer always brings them in for curious folks like me.  I love them!

Posted by Jam on 8/16

i love growing my own fruit and veg, it’s really a great feeling of self sufficiency
http://www.garden-lighting.co

Posted by matthew on 8/20

In response to Matthew growing his own.
It may soon be that it would not just be a ‘great feeling’ but a matter of “self-preservation” to grow your own.
I’m no tree hugger, However: I expect yet in my lifetime to see more and more of these lovely, lush lawns torn up and re-planted to something a little more “green” than the “grass” plant.
oldbuck

Posted by oldbuck on 8/20

I had chirimoya in Spain in the 1960’s and looked in vain for them for decades in the U.S. Finally got another one when visitng Spain in 2010. they have big black seeds in them just like the photo of the cut paw paw fruit (above). Wonder is there is a connection. If paw paws taste like chirimoya, where can I find them? (Houston area) Would love to buy the fruit or buy a couple of trees to plant next to my peaches.

Posted by jill on 8/20

Jill is very observant.  Cherimoyas and pawpaws are indeed related and in the same plant family, Annonaceae.  Cherimoyas are one of several species of Annona that have edible fruits. Funny Jill had to go to Spain to encounter cherimoyas; they are a neotropical native and common in the Caribbean & central America.

Posted by The Phytophactor on 8/21

Jill and Phytophactor: could it be that the Spaniards visiting the New World may have brought back some of the Paw Paw plants to their homeland??? Growin up in Iowa and now in Minnesota, I have missed out on seeing and tasting that lucious fruit. I did, however taste a similar fruit while vacationing in Hana, Maui. It too tasted like banana custard but, for the life of me, I can’t remember its name!

Posted by Kathryn on 8/24

I live in San Diego so the closest I can get to a paw paw patch is when i have to park far away from my destination and walk!

Posted by sdcrazy on 8/24

As a couple people have noted, it’s time to go looking for paw paw. I figure September 1 is about the right time for around Washington, DC, where I live. Those of you further south should have ripe fruit already.

Usually you can find the trees along creeks or rivers where there is good, rich, wet soil. You can recognize the trees most reliably from a distance by their leaves, with are tear-drop shaped, dark-ish glossy green, sometimes as much as a foot long, and droopy. (As a trick later in the year, after most of the leaves from other trees have fallen, the paw paw will have kept their leaves which will have turned bright yellow. When that happens, you can pretty easily pick out paw paw patches from the road while driving at highway speeds. Then you just have to remember where you saw them for 9 or 10 months ...)

If you find paw paw, don’t pick it unless it’s pretty much ripe, which means it will be slightly squishy. Paw paw, in my experience, does not ripen well once picked.

Then, when you’ve picked the fruit, you’re on a race against time: in my experience, they go from ripe to rotten faster than bananas, so you have just a few days. What’s nice is that you’ll get several distinct flavors from the same batch of fruit over that time.

Posted by Joe on 8/24

If you’re interested in growing paw paws in your yard, here’s one company that sells the young trees:  http://www.blossomnursery.com/index.html

Posted by Laurene on 8/24

Katheryn asks, “could it be that the Spaniards visiting the New World may have brought back some of the Paw Paw plants to their homeland???” 
Someone took them to the old world, but they probably weren’t part of an early exchange. Remember they were looking for spices.  Things that were easily grown from seeds with reasonable longevity were among the early transplants, e.g., tomato, capsicum peppers.

Posted by Phytophactor on 8/24

Phytophactor, thanks for the info!
Do you have any idea what that fruit I tasted at a fruit stand in Hana might be? It looked very much like that one in the photo.

Posted by Kathryn on 8/24

From Kathryn: “I did, however taste a similar fruit while vacationing in Hana, Maui. It too tasted like banana custard but, for the life of me, I can’t remember its name!”

It was probably a custard apple, Annona reticulata. Google it and check the images, but these fruits are the result of the pistils fusing during fruit development.  In pawpaw they stay separate.

Posted by Phytophactor on 8/24

Glad to see another story about my favorite fruit!  I started breeding pawpaws in 1981, so I’ve become a bit of an expert. Not to blow my own horn (okay, I guess I am) but even though I am retired, my six varieties are available from three fine nurseries:  Forrest Keeling Nursery (MO), One Green World (OR), and Nolin River Nut Nursery (KY).  My favorite varieties are ‘Shenandoah’, ‘Wabash’, and ‘Susquehanna’ altho the other three are really good too. 

Now some news:  On Sept 9-10 there is the 3rd International Conference on Pawpaws.  There is still time to register; the theme is focused on commercial cultivation and marketing this time.  For info go to http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/3rdinternationalpawpawconference.htm. 

The other news is the 13th Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival in on Sept 16-18 http://www.ohiopawpawfest.com/  It is quite the good event, with plenty of pawpaws, crafts, etc.

A question arose about when and how were pawpaws introduced from America to Europe. The answer is in 1736 John Bartram sent seeds to Peter Collinson of England, as part of a larger shipment of seeds.  Bartram was the pre-eminent American botanist of his day, and Collinson was a fellow Quaker, amateur botanist, and a patron to Bartram.

Posted by Neal Peterson on 8/24

Pawpaw cheesecake is easy and wonderfully exotic -scrape out a bunch of pawpaws, deseed, and add to traditional cheesecake recipe (I cut back on other wet ingredients slightly).

Posted by Christy on 8/24

I can remember picking pawpaws on my grandparents farm. wasn’t sure what month but i do remember the older folks making pawpaw wine. which all us kids got to taste. I miss going to my grandparents farm for these fruits. my Grandfather died in 1981 and my Grandma in 1992.
we still own the property,but i’m afraid that the wild animals will have gotten to them by the time we drive this Sept to there place. I know i will order trees for next year,for my new home. we loved the fruit. so many diffrent tastes in one.
Also will have to take a space suite to get out to the bottom land since no one really cuts its anymore.But it will be worth it.would love my children and grandkids to try this fruit. HOPE MY CHILD HOOD MEMORY IS RIGHT AND I DO LIKE THIS AFTER FIGHT THE SNAKES AND OTHER ANIMALS.

Posted by Arlene on 8/24

Two points:

1) Mother used to like pawpaws. I think it was the novelty. Dad said, “Not as long as we can afford something good to eat.” I wouldn’t describe a paw paw as “lucious”. Just ok!!! To me overripe Bananas with a touch of lemon juice would describe the taste.

2) As a physician in family practice I once received a panic call from a nurse. An elderly lady IN THE HOSPITAL was experiencing what seemed to be anaphylaxis—hives, itching, swollen lips and face,difficulty breathing, wheezing, anxiety, rapid thready pulse—everything for a possible, or potentially fatal reaction. We treated with emergency measures and she came out of the crisis. We then questioned about medicines, foods, candy, perfumes, and anything that might cause such a sudden reaction. All we could get was that the patient was from West Virginia (and we were in Ohio) and she had a craving for paw paws. The family had brought a paw paw into the hospital and she had eaten it shortly before the reaction. This is the only explanation we could find. Association doesn’t necessarily mean a causal relationship.

Has anyone heard of such a reaction to paw paws? If so let me know at <mm22638@windstream.net>

Sorry to throw cold water on the otherwise pleasant paw paw party.

Posted by Marcus on 8/24

Thanks for your post, Mr. Peterson.

Posted by Terry Kennedy on 8/24

I grew up in the southeast U.S. and I remember hearing that people make pawpaw bread.  Anyone here tried that?

Posted by Jaimee on 8/24

I have seen increasingly frequent statements recently that paw paw is another name for papayas.  I knew it wasn’t so, but since I didn’t really know what paw paws are, I thought it best not to send in comments.  So thanks for the article!  Next time I won’t be so timid.  I hate to see these misnomers get started, and then become standard.  I know languages change with time, but I don’t like it.  It is because I am old and cranky.

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 8/25

My grandmother owned lush bottom land with a nice creek in east Tennessee. There were several pawpaws that always bore large fruits. They didn’t appeal to me that much, the flavor is sort of weird; bitter papaya taste is the best I can do to describe it.
The one time I remember my father eating one, it was a horrible experience. He was severely allergic to them. His lips swelled twice their size, his tongue too and his stomach swelled til he looked like a pregnant woman eight months along. I was small but remember him being in agony w/severe symptoms.
Needless to say, he never ate one again!

Posted by B Hartman on 8/25

This was fascinating! Being a lifelong California resident, the only time I ever heard about a pawpaw was in the old Disney tune “Bare Necessities"from the movie “The Jungle Book”. The tale takes place in India and the song is sung by Balou the bear. Actually, the bear’s voice is provided by Phil Harris (a good ol’ gentleman from the South). In the song, Balou shows Mogli how to get an edible cactus fruit without getting stuck by the needles. Throughout the song, Balou advises Mogli to not get a “raw paw” by mishandling “the pawpaw”. I don’t know if this was Phil’s southern upbringing and experience coming through in the tune or the Sherman brothers song writing ingenuity. However, for the fifty plus years, I’ve always thought that a pawpaw was an edible cactus fruit. Now at least I won’t go looking for pawpaws in the rainforest or the desert.

Posted by Dan D.C. on 8/26

I found paw paws while hiking outside Manhattan, KS in the 1970s.  We were in a glen that started with the Kaw or Kansas river at the mouth and went up a hill towards part of Konza Prairie.  There was a stream that ran through the glen.  We were there during different seasons.  The fall is best for taking photos of the paw paws’ yellow elongated leaves and darker branches.  I think they tasted like bananas….not my favorite taste.  But they are cool plants.

Posted by K Hursh on 8/27

To Dan D.C.:
I always thought “Don’t get a raw paw” meant be careful with the cactus spines and don’t scratch or scrape your paw, resulting in a raw paw.  Nothing to do with pawpaws, or cactus fruit!  Funny how we interpret things as children.  Don’t forget “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear”.  As a child I jumped rope to the rhyme:
One, two, three a-nation
I received my confirmation
On the Day of DEC-a-lar-a-tion
One, two, three a-nation

It was years before I even heard of Decoration Day, now more often called Memorial Day.

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 8/28

My dad would always take us Morel Mushroom hunting in the spring when we were kids. Mom would always pack a cooler with sandwiches and soda pop so the entire family would have a picnic in the timber. Some of my fondest childhood memories are associated with these morel hunting trips and the picnics in the timber. It was always a special treat when Dad found PawPaws for us to eat. He would also look for buckeyes for us kids to keep and carry around with us for good luck. (A Buckeye is actually a nut from a Buckeye tree that has a dark spot that gives it an eye like appearance.) A lot of very happy childhood memories are associated with PawPaws and our Morel hunting trips!

Posted by Helen on 8/29

There is a memorial garden near my home in Fairfax VA in a wooded area near an elementary school. The garden was created for one of their teachers. They planted 10 or so of the PawPaw trees.  We are all looking forward to seeing and hopefully tasting the fruit.  My late boyfriend lived a rural area in northern VA and a number of his older neighbors ate them when growing up and some trees can still be found in the wooded areas near their homes.

Posted by Linda on 9/1

I can remember eating pawpaws as a kid my mom liked to squirrel hunt and she would bring them home. It was a real treat I live in MO.

Posted by janice on 9/14

What happened to my comment?  Did you delete it because it was off topic?  If you don’t type the funnyword exactly right and get rejected, you should at least leave the comment so the person can try again.

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 9/14
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