pawpaw fruit

Pawpaws become brown as they ripen.

I had never heard of this fruit they call pawpaw, nor had I ever tasted it — until now. It looked so suspiciously similar to an unripe mango that if you handed me one of each, I don't think I'd notice the difference. The Vox newsroom did a "first time trying pawpaws" taste test, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it tasted like a banana, albeit an overly-ripe banana because of the custardy texture. 

Still, I needed to know: What exactly is a pawpaw? I reached out to MU's Center of Agroforestry, which researches the "tropical" fruit, to find out more.  

What is a pawpaw?

Pawpaw, also known by its botanical name, Asimina Triloba, is a fruit native to Missouri and the Midwest. The tree produces the largest edible fruit in eastern U.S. from the plant family Annonaceae. 

What does it look like?

The shape of a pawpaw looks like a mango or a potato. It's plump and round, typically between 5 oz. and 1 lb. The skin is green in color but turns from yellow to brown as it ripens, like a banana. When cut open, the flesh inside is yellow with a creamy texture and big seeds. 

How is it grown?

Pawpaws can only grow through cross-pollination, meaning that the pollen from one tree has to carry over to another tree, typically by flies or beetles, in order for the fruit to be produced. A mature pawpaw tree in the wild can grow from 15 to 30 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide. After the first five or six years, it will start to bear fruits in small batches. The tree can live up to 25 years. For the best harvest, plant pawpaw trees in moist soil with full sun. 

How do you harvest and store pawpaws? 

Pawpaw's season is short and limited. They begin to ripen in the summer, peaking in September and October. The skin color won't effectively indicate the fruit's ripeness, but a shake of the branch should leave you with fruits ready to be enjoyed. Pawpaws ripen very quickly and only have a shelf life of two to three days. So if you don't plan to eat it right away, store them in the refrigerator and they'll last for three weeks. 

Pawpaw nutritional information

Why should I get pawpaws?

Pawpaws have lots of nutritional value. They're a good source for Vitamin C and calcium. They also contain higher protein levels than other fruits such as banana, apples or oranges. 

So how do you actually consume pawpaws?

If you've never encountered this fruit, trying to eat it might be puzzling. But it's as easy as cutting it in half and scooping the flesh out. The pulp can be used in various baked goods, ice cream, custard or pawpaw beer and wine. 

Fortunately for me, my friend picked wild pawpaws from Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary. Instead of a standard taste test, we decided to experiment with something a little bit more fun — a pawpaw smoothie! Knowing that they have similar tastes, I drew inspiration from banana smoothies. 

The ingredients:

  • Pawpaws
  • Milk 
  • Yogurt (Optional)
  • Ice 

Step 1: Cut up some fresh pawpaws. Scoop the insides into a blender, avoiding the seeds. Try not to make as much of a mess as I did.

Step 2: Add just enough milk to cover the fruit. I used almond milk, as it was all I had on hand, but use the milk of your choice. 

Step 3 (Optional): I added two scoops of strawberry yogurt because I love strawberry-banana smoothies. Why not, right? It also thickened the consistency, but this step is up to your personal preference.

Step 4: Add ice to make it freezing-ly delicious.

Step 5: It's finally time to mix it up. Blend until the mixture looks smooth and voila, it's done!

Step 6: Drink it right away or spice it up with your favorite toppings. I tried to go the extra mile by making a smoothie bowl with cut-up fruits and granola. 

Verdict: 8/10

Even though this was my first attempt, I thought it turned out great! I personally prefer the bowl over the plain smoothie because the extra toppings added more crunch and sweetness to it. Like biting into the fruit itself, the smoothie leaves an aftertaste that I'm not the biggest fan of. My recommendation is that if you have a sweet tooth like me, add some honey into the mixture. 

Are you now intrigued by this mysterious, unique fruit? There are a few places around Columbia that offer pawpaws.

Range Free currently serves pawpaw butter, which goes well on top of your toast. They also added a limited menu of pawpaw muffin Friday afternoon and throughout last weekend. Sometimes, they might even have pawpaw creme brulee if you're lucky enough.

Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream will be partnering with the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at MU to serve some pawpaw ice cream at its Missouri Chestnut Roast event Oct. 5. 

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