Latin name: Asimina triloba
Other names: papaw
Uses: fruit

What are pawpaws?

Pawpaws are fruit in the same family as the tropical delicacies soursop and cherimoya. The bushy trees produce beautiful (though delightfully foul-smelling) burgundy flowers and the late-summer fruit is exquisite. 

Why are pawpaws healthy?

Besides being an excellent source of vitamins (especially A and C), minerals (manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc), and fiber, pawpaws also contain all the essential amino acids. Pawpaws are also full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phenolics as well as compounds called acetogenins that kill head lice and may have anti-cancer properties.

What do pawpaws taste like?

Like their cousins soursop and cherimoya, pawpaws have a creamy, custardy texture and a similarly sweet and slightly sour tropical flavor. Their aroma is reminiscent of bananas, pineapples, and mangos. Ripe pawpaws are super soft and don’t travel well.

How do I use pawpaws?

The succulent fruits are usually sliced open and eaten raw (a spoon is sufficient for harvesting the flesh), though old recipes typically use the fruit for custards, puddings, preserves, cakes, and quick breads.

What do pawpaws pair well with?

The banana-adjacent flavor of pawpaw makes it a natural match for other ingredients of the American South, like pecans, hickory, and sorghum syrup. It’s nice with warm spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.

Where do pawpaws grow?

The native range of pawpaw is eastern North America, from southern Ontario down to Florida, and west to Nebraska. It can be grown in temperate climates, though the plant is dioecious: you need separate male and female plants for pollination and fruit production. They can be grown fairly easily from seed, as long as the seeds are given a stratification period over the winter. They don’t like being transplanted, so it’s best to direct-sow them.

How to buy pawpaws:

These odd American fruits aren’t widely available, and that is a real tragedy. If you want to taste them, your best bet is to grow your own or befriend someone who does. Let the fruits soften on the counter and use them within a few days of ripening.

Surprising pawpaw fact:

According to Ozark superstition, the pawpaw tree is associated with witchcraft and devil worship.ii To drain a witch of her powers, at midnight, one must plug a piece of her body (fingernail or hair clippings would suffice) into a hole bored into the fork of a pawpaw trunk using a wooden peg. This “pawpaw conjure” was also purportedly used by men with unfaithful wives, but its main purpose was, according to lore, “to deal with women who ‘talk the Devil’s language.’”