The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit that is native to the United States, grown indigenous in some 26 states nationwide including Ohio. The majority of pawpaws are grown from the Great Lakes to the Florida Panhandle, with mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states being the primary growing region. Grown on trees, pawpaws ripen in the fall and are generally harvested from late August to mid-October.
Not to be confused with papayas, the skin color of ripe pawpaws can range from green to brown or black on the outside and is yellow on the inside, with a ripe pawpaw about the size of a large potato. The meat of the fruit, which is soft and mushy like an avocado, has been described as tasting a little like a rich, custardy tropical blend of banana, mango, and pineapple, according to Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist with Ohio State University Extension.
OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, (CFAES).
Pawpaws are a very healthy option, as they are naturally high in vitamins C and B-6, and are great sources of magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They’re also are a good source of potassium, and they contain significant amounts of riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Although pawpaws are native to Ohio and were once a key part of the diet of Native Americans, now they’re not typically found in grocery stores. But the fruit is gaining in popularity as part of the healthy food movement and can sometimes be found at farmers markets. Pawpaws can be cultivated and can also be found growing wild in pawpaw patches in woodlands across Ohio and other states.
Because of the resurgence in consumer interest in pawpaws, CFAES researchers including Bergefurd see pawpaw’s potential as a crop for Ohio farmers and have established research studies to help proliferate the fruit into more consumer markets.
Those studies include, the Marketing and Orchard Resource Efficiency (MORE) Ohio Pawpaw, which began in 2016 and is offering farmers and nurseries the know-how to establish productive pawpaw orchards and find markets for their fruit; and the Improved Pawpaw Cultural and Post-harvest Practices Enhancing Orchard Establishment, Productivity, Fruit Quality and Marketability study.
“Though the demand for fresh and processed pawpaw is strong, the supply is limited in Ohio because prospective growers don’t know enough about either growing or selling the product to invest in trying,” Bergefurd said in recent CFAES story. “We want to provide unbiased research-based information so farmers can make the best management decisions and maybe cash in on this crop.
“Right now, the market is there. As long as the farmer does a good job in establishing markets, the potential is there.”
Pawpaws can be eaten by slicing the fruit open and removing the large, oval-shaped black seeds. They can also be made into breads, pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, puddings, jam, butter, salsa, ice cream, and for a growing list of microbrewers, into craft beers.