There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of a pawpaw, let alone tasted one.

That’s because pawpaws are quite rare and not usually found in grocery stores. These hard-to-find fruits are sought after for their delicious, sweet taste — and they may offer a few health benefits, too.

This article explains everything you need to know about pawpaws, including where they grow, how they taste, and whether they make a healthy addition to your diet.

A blue and white geometric plate covered in six pawpaws — green, oval-shaped fruits — sits on a wood table.Share on Pinterest
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Pawpaws are the fruit of the Asimina triloba tree, which is native to the eastern United States and southern Canada. Pawpaws are the northernmost member of the Annonaceae plant family, which consists mainly of tropical and subtropical plants (1, 2).

They’re considered the largest edible fruit native to North America, measuring 2–6 inches (5–16 cm) and 1–3 inches wide (3–7 cm) (3).

According to historical documentation, “pawpaw” is a Spanish name given to the fruit by members of conquistador Hernando de Soto’s party during a colonization attempt in the Southeastern United States. The Native American term for the fruit was assemina(3).

It’s important to note that, although the first documented report of this fruit that scholars have access to comes from a Portuguese explorer in 1541, Indigenous People started growing and eating pawpaw long before that (1).

Indigenous People used the bark of the pawpaw tree to make rope and cloth as well.

What’s more, the wide distribution of pawpaw throughout the Eastern United States is likely partly due to Indigenous People growing and trading it, unintentionally dispersing its seeds across the region (3).

Fossilized remains of pawpaws have been found all over the Northeastern United States, including along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and at archaeological sites in several states, including Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi (3).

Summary

Pawpaws are the fruit of the Asimina triloba tree, which is native to the eastern United States and southern Canada. They’re the largest edible fruit native to North America and have a sweet, tropical taste.

Pawpaws are oblong green fruits that have large, black, lima-bean-shaped seeds.

Pawpaws are prized for their flavor, which is described as a tropical blend of mango, banana, berries, and pineapple (3, 4).

However, it’s important to note that there are several types of wild pawpaw, some of which don’t have a pleasant taste.

Plus, a number of commercial pawpaw cultivars are grown in the United States, including Overleese, Taytwo, Mary (Foos) Johnson, and Sunflower, which may have flavor differences (4, 5, 6).

The texture of ripe pawpaw is described as creamy and custard-like.

Ripe pawpaws have a strong, fruity, and floral aroma and are soft to the touch like a ripe avocado or peach (5, 6).

Immature pawpaws are generally light green, and the fruit may exhibit a slight yellowish color change when ripening. Ripe pawpaw flesh is yellow and has a smooth, soft texture (6).

However, color changes are not always reliable signs of ripeness, so you may need to rely on other signs to know when pawpaws are ready to be eaten.

Summary

Pawpaws have a sweet taste that’s described as a blend of mango, banana, berries, and pineapple. They have soft flesh and may have a custard-like texture.

Like most fruits, pawpaws are nutritious and rich in a number of vitamins and minerals.

According to Kentucky State University’s Pawpaw Research Project, 100 grams of ripe pawpaw fruit with skin provides (7):

  • Calories: 80
  • Protein: 1.2 grams
  • Fat: 1.2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 18.8 grams
  • Fiber: 2.6 grams
  • Vitamin C: 20% of the recommended Daily Value (DV)
  • Riboflavin: 7% of the DV
  • Potassium: 7% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 27% of the DV
  • Manganese: 113% of the DV
  • Iron: 39% of the DV

A 100-gram serving of pawpaw contains 3 times as much vitamin C as an apple and twice as much as a banana (7).

Plus, pawpaws are an excellent source of magnesium and nonheme iron, and they’re exceptionally high in manganese, a mineral that’s needed for nutrient metabolism, immune function, reproduction, skeletal health, and more (8).

However, keep in mind that this analysis was done on pawpaw fruit with the skin. Pawpaw skin is considered inedible, so any nutrients included in it, including fiber and fat, would not be consumed.

Overall, pawpaws are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and carbs.

Summary

Pawpaws are a rich source of nutrients like vitamin C, magnesium, iron, manganese, and potassium.

Including pawpaws in your diet could provide a number of health benefits. However, there’s a lack of research investigating the effects of pawpaw consumption on human health.

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Good source of many nutrients

Like many fruits, pawpaws are rich in nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Pawpaws are especially high in vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and iron.

Maintaining optimal vitamin C levels in the body is essential for immune function, protection against illness and infection, skin health, and more (9).

In fact, white blood cells called neutrophils contain very high levels of vitamin C — about 10–100 times higher than the average vitamin C levels found in plasma, or the liquid part of blood (9).

Neutrophils are considered the first line of defense of the innate immune system, destroying pathogens that would otherwise cause infection (10).

Pawpaws are also high in magnesium, a mineral that most people don’t consume enough of. Having suboptimal magnesium levels may increase your risk of developing certain health conditions, including high blood pressure, stroke, and artery calcification (11).

Pawpaws are a good source of nonheme iron as well.

It’s important to get a mix of both nonheme and heme iron in your diet to maintain optimal levels. This is because the nonheme found in plant foods isn’t as bioavailable (easily absorbed and used) as the heme iron found in animal foods or the iron found in supplements (12).

Contains protective plant compounds

In addition to vitamins and minerals, pawpaws contain a variety of plant compounds, including phenolic compounds like epigallocatechin, epicatechin, chlorogenic acid, and p-coumaric acid, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (13, 14).

However, according to one study, the antioxidant content of pawpaws may decrease as the fruit ripens (15).

While pawpaws contain antioxidant levels similar to those of tropical fruits like guava, papaya, and bananas, far fewer studies have investigated the potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of pawpaws (16).

Increasing your intake of any fruit will likely benefit your health

Even though there’s not much research on pawpaws and how they may benefit health, increasing your intake of produce, in general, can improve your health in a number of ways.

Many studies demonstrate that eating more fruits and vegetables may help reduce your risk of developing health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, promote a healthy body weight, improve mental health, and more (17, 18, 19, 20).

If you like and have access to pawpaws, try to include them in your diet. However, keep in mind that pawpaws can be hard to find and are highly perishable, so they’re not readily available to most.

Summary

Like many fruits, pawpaws are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Pawpaws are especially high in vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and iron. They also contain plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

For most people, pawpaws aren’t a dietary staple. That’s because pawpaws only grow in specific areas, are highly perishable, and are not commonly sold in stores.

The trees naturally grow wild in parts of the United States, including Indiana and Kentucky, and even some parts of Canada. Foragers in these areas can score wild pawpaws if they search at the right time of year.

You can also grow your own pawpaw trees if you live in the right climate and have the room.

However, if you plan to grow a pawpaw tree, you need to be patient. These trees can take up to 7 years to start producing fruit (6).

You may be able to buy pawpaws from a local grower or a specialty market. But remember, these fruits are highly perishable, lasting only 2 days after ripening. That makes transporting pawpaws difficult. For this reason, you won’t find them in most grocery stores (6).

If you get your hands on some unripe pawpaws, you can refrigerate them for 2 weeks, then let them ripen for a few days at room temperature.

Most people agree that the best way to enjoy pawpaws is fresh. You can cut the pawpaw in half and scoop out the sweet flesh with a spoon, discarding its large seeds.

As heat destroys the delicate flavor of pawpaws, they’re best used in recipes that require little to no heat, such as ice cream, mousse, and sorbet.

Summary

Pawpaws can be found growing wild in certain areas. You may be able to grow them or purchase them from pawpaw growers. They’re highly perishable, so they’re not usually found in grocery stores. Enjoy pawpaws fresh or use them in cold, sweet dishes.

Pawpaws are unique, nutritious fruits with a tropical, sweet taste.

They’re a rich source of nutrients like magnesium, vitamin C, and manganese, and they contain a variety of plant compounds that may offer some anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some pawpaws, it’s best to enjoy these highly perishable fruits fresh or incorporate them into dishes like ice creams and sorbets.