Pawpaw, also spelt Papaw or Paw Paw, refers to both the fruit and the deciduous tree that the fruit grows on. The tree is native to America, as far west as Texas and Wisconsin. The tree is related to the Cherimoya tree. It grows 15 to 20 feet tall (4.5 to 6 metres), with glossy leaves 6 to 12 inches long (15 to 30 cm) that droop downwards and turn yellow in the autumn then fall from the tree.
It blooms with dark-purple or deep purply-red flowers about 2 inches wide (5 cm), which grow on branches from the previous year. The flowers droop downwards, like the leaves. The leaves don’t grow back on the tree in the spring until after the tree has bloomed. The tree cannot pollinate itself; it requires cross-pollination from a different pawpaw tree by insects.
The tree can be propagated reliably from seed. Up to now, it has been grown only by home gardeners, though it is now being considered for commercial cultivation.
The fruit can weigh up to a pound (450g), though 8 to 12 oz is usual (225 to 350g), and be 3 to 7 inches long (7.5 to 18 cm.) The fruit grows in clusters. The skin ripens in the fall from a greenish-yellow to a purple-brown. Sometimes the skin may develop black spots, which doesn’t affect the flesh inside. Some people compare its appearance to a fat, overripe banana; others to a big brown pickle. Inside the flesh is pale yellow, with two rows of seeds. Each row will have 5 to 7 flat, dark brown seeds 1/2 inch to 1 1/2 inches long (1 to 3 cm.) The flesh will be soft when ripe, with the consistency of custard. When the fruit on the tree is ripe and ready to harvest, amongst the first visitors to the trees are wasps, who are very attracted to it.
The fruit tastes a bit like a combination between pineapple, banana, pear and mango.
Promoters hope that Pawpaw might one day join blueberries and cranberries as a native American fruit to hit the big time. However, Pawpaws have very thin skin, making them hard to ship, and giving them a short shelf life.
Varieties and cultivars identified so far include Davis, Fairchild, Mary Foos Johnson Mitchell, Overleese, Prolific, Sunflower, Sweet Alice, Taylor, Taytoo and Wells.
Pawpaw can be eaten raw or in cooked items, though the flavour diminishes when cooked.
Has very short shelf life, about 3 days tops, owing to its thin skin.
American Indians ate Pawpaw, and are probably responsible for its spread westwards.
In the UK and in Australia, a papaya is often referred to as a “pawpaw”. The two fruits, however, are not related in the least.