Everything You Need to Know About Pawpaws

Pawpaws taste like a tropical fruit but are grown right here in America.

Published Sept. 15, 2023.

Pawpaws—sometimes referred to as “America’s forgotten fruit”—are the largest fruit indigenous to North America. These green‑skinned peanut-shaped fruits range from 3 to 6 inches long. Their interiors vary from a soft yellow to a golden or light orange hue. Each pawpaw contains several large lima bean–size seeds. This seemingly tropical fruit grows in hanging clusters that resemble a “hand” of bananas. Some people refer to papayas as pawpaws (or papaws), but they are not the same fruit.

A member of the custard-apple family, pawpaws have creamy, rich, and custardy flesh. Their sweet flesh is highly aromatic and lacks tartness and acidity. The flesh has notes of banana, mango, and pineapple and varies in flavor depending on the variety and growing location. Underripe pawpaws are generally quite mild, but like bananas, they intensify in flavor as they ripen.

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Where to Find Pawpaws

Pawpaws grow primarily in the eastern half of the United States, roughly from Missouri to Maryland. Most local supermarkets in that region don’t sell pawpaws because they’re in short supply and spoil quickly; you’re more likely to find them at farmers’ markets when they’re in season. 

Depending on the latitude of their growing region, pawpaws can be harvested from late July to October, when the trees’ big green leaves begin to turn golden, which indicates that the fruit is ripe. Pawpaws should be picked when ripe (unripe pawpaws will not ripen off the tree). There are also a few small processing plants in the growing regions where locals can process their pawpaws, allowing people to order packaged pulp online, but they sell out quickly. 

Pawpaw Festivals and Treats

Pawpaw festivals showcase this delectable fruit across the eastern United States. The Ohio Pawpaw Festival is known for events including cook-offs, competitions for the best and biggest pawpaws, and a pawpaw-eating contest. While most people who forage for pawpaws love to cut them open ripe from the picking and squeeze the sweet pulp directly into their mouths before spitting out the seeds, some will mix the flesh into other sweet treats, sauces, and beverages. Some of the crowd favorites are pawpaw ice cream and pawpaw beer. Inspired by the idea of a pawpaw ice cream, we developed our own recipe for this frosty treat. 


Pawpaw Ice Cream

Pawpaws taste like a tropical fruit but are grown right here in America.
Get the Recipe

Choosing Flavorful Pawpaws

Picking a ripe pawpaw is similar to choosing a ripe avocado or peach; use the squeeze test. The most accurate test for ripeness is to place the fruit in the palm of your hand and gently squeeze: It should yield slightly to the pressure. Ripe pawpaws should also give off a mango‑ or banana-like smell. Some prefer very ripe pawpaws, heavily speckled (or even black), in their recipes—similar to ripe bananas used for banana bread. 

How to Store Pawpaws

Whole: Pawpaws bruise easily, so trim any stems and store the fruit in a single layer at room temperature for a few days. Fully ripened pawpaws can be refrigerated for up to a week. 

Processed into Pulp: We prefer the flavor of raw pawpaws to cooked, as cooking pawpaws lessens their tropical notes. For fresh pulp to use the next day, place it in an airtight container and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pulp to prevent oxidation. 

Processed into Pulp and Frozen: Freezing the fruit’s pulp is the most reliable way to preserve it. To freeze pawpaw pulp, add 1-cup portions (or enough for one recipe) of pawpaw pulp to zipper-lock or vacuum‑sealable bags. To guarantee a clean edge, fold back the last 2 to 3 inches of the bag into a cuff before adding the pulp. Once the pulp is in the bag, simply unfold the cuff, remove as much air as possible, and seal. Frozen pawpaw pulp is best thawed in the refrigerator overnight or by submerging the packages in a water bath. 

Pawpaw seeds and skin contain alkaloids that can cause illness—don’t eat them!

How to Prep a Pawpaw

Step 1: Halve the pawpaw

1. Using chef’s knife, halve pawpaw lengthwise and pull apart with your hands. 

Step 2: Remove seeds

2. Using spoon, remove seeds from pawpaw halves.

Step 3: Scoop the flesh

3. Scoop seeded pawpaw flesh out of skins and into large bowl.

Step 4: Mash

4. Evenly mash pawpaws into coarse pulp with potato masher. 

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