Pawpaw: An “Exotic” Fruit Growing in North American Backyards

If you’ve never heard of pawpaw before, you’re not alone. This vibrant fruit is a symphony of tropical flavor, yet has been flying under the radar of most consumers for centuries. Read on to learn more about how you can incorporate this underrated fruit into your diet.

History of Pawpaw Cultivation

Though prized for its exotic flavor, the pawpaw actually grows natively in North America. Native Americans have long been consuming the fruit for both its culinary and medicinal purposes. Pawpaw is difficult to transport so has yet to gain widespread recognition among the public. However, this may change as the fruit is steadily gaining traction within culinary circles.

Are pawpaw and papaya the same?

The name pawpaw is sometimes used to refer to papaya; however, they are actually two different fruits that belong to the same genus. This confusion is likely due to the similarity of their outer skin, but the distinction is clear when comparing their starkly dissimilar interiors and flavor profiles

Flavor and Appearance of Pawpaws

Pawpaw has a vibrant and complex flavor that can be described as deeply tropical, despite its being able to grow in temperate climates.

The fruit tastes like a hybrid of sweet mango and mellow banana with the brightness of pineapple. This compelling combination is enhanced by the fruit’s floral aroma and rounded out by its pleasantly bitter aftertaste. When overripe, pawpaw also develops a malty sweet overtone that some people may actually prefer.

Ripe pawpaw has mottled green skin that gives easily when pressed. The interior of the fruit ranges in color from creamy white to bright yellow and has a soft, custard-like consistency studded with large oval seeds.

How to Use Pawpaws

Pawpaw’s medley of tropical flavors makes it a standout ingredient in beverages and desserts. Additionally, its creamy consistency allows it to disperse effortlessly into smoothies, frozen desserts, and batters. You can use pawpaw to flavor cakes, ice cream, and puddings. For breakfast, make pawpaw curd to spread over toast or simply mix the fruit into your morning yogurt bowl. 

It’s worth noting that pawpaw’s nuanced flavor is sensitive to heat, so expect a more subtle flavor when incorporating it in baked goods and stovetop desserts such as custard or panna cotta.

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