Find out how to eat a fresh pawpaw or process pawpaw fruit for long-term storage in your freezer.
Table of contents:
I. Quick introduction to pawpaws (Asimina triloba)
II. Warnings about eating pawpaw fruit
III. Pawpaw harvesting and storage tips
IV. How to eat fresh pawpaws
V. How to process pawpaw fruit for freezer storage
VI. Pawpaw recipes
I. Quick introduction to pawpaws (Asimina triloba)
Are you a first-timer who’s been lucky enough to get your hands on pawpaw fruit (Asimina triloba), North America’s largest — and arguably tastiest — native fruit? Are you now wondering how to eat this strange new fruit?
Bite into it like an apple? Peel it?
Or are you a forager or orchard gardener with a huge haul of pawpaw fruit? Now you’re trying to figure out how to efficiently get all that delicious pawpaw fruit separated from the skin and seeds so you can store pawpaw in your freezer for later use (aka “process pawpaw fruit”).
Either way, you’ll find the answers to your pawpaw processing questions in this article!
Pawpaws are a perennial fruit tree that made the cut for our top-5 fruit & nut trees to grow for our Ag zone, 7b. That top-5 list is based on three primary criteria: quality of the fruit/nut produced (nutrition + flavor), low maintenance, and yield.
We also have a detailed article all about how to grow pawpaw trees organically (from seed or sapling), if you’d like to grow your own pawpaws.
We currently have four fruit-producing pawpaw trees and ten more young plants that should start producing fruit in the near future. We also have pawpaw foraging spots where we can gather dozens of pounds of pawpaw fruit in a short 2-3 mile hike. Lucky us!
Thus, during pawpaw season we end up with more fruit than we could possibly eat fresh, so we have to process and store it in our freezer for later use. Below, we’ll share our pawpaw harvesting and processing tips to help you do the same.
But first some important pawpaw warnings…
II: Warnings about eating pawpaw fruit
Before you sink your teeth in, let’s start with a warning: eating pawpaws can make some people sick. And depending on how pawpaw fruit is prepared, it can make someone sick who might otherwise easily tolerate raw pawpaw.
Pawpaw consumption safety parameters:
Lowest risk: raw pawpaw fruit
A small percentage of people will experience GI distress from eating fresh/raw pawpaw fruit. This is not unusual — for every food on earth, you can find someone who has aversions or allergies.
Also note that some people may experience contact allergies (rashes, itchy skin, etc) from pawpaw fruit skins, leaves, and bark.
Medium risk: cooked pawpaw
Eating cooked/baked pawpaw fruit increases the risk of GI distress. We’ve also found that cooked pawpaw fruit can develop off flavors – sickeningly sweet while oddly bitter.
High risk: dehydrated/dried pawpaw
Eating dehydrated pawpaw fruit increases the risk of GI distress to such a heightened degree that you should NOT make or consume dehydrated pawpaw fruit. If you need more convincing, read the warnings and graphic personal accounts of people who ate dried pawpaw fruit via a newsletter from The Ohio Chapter of the North American Pawpaw Growers Association.
Here’s how these warnings translate into safely eating pawpaws:
1. If you or someone else has NEVER eaten pawpaw before, only try a small amount of the fresh/raw fruit your first time. If you have no adverse reaction after 12 hours or so, you can assume you’re able to eat the raw fruit.
2. When consuming baked/cooked pawpaw for the first time, only try a small amount. If you have no adverse reaction after 12 hours or so, you can assume you’re able to eat the baked/cooked fruit, at least in moderation.
Personal note: We’ve had family members who ate lots of raw pawpaw one day with no problem. The next day, eating baked pawpaw led to an unpleasant bathroom experience.
3. Don’t ever eat dehydrated pawpaw fruit, even if you’ve never experienced an adverse reaction to the raw or cooked fruit. If you’re absolutely determined to break this rule, then you might want to only eat a very small amount when you do.
Are there any long-term health risks of eating pawpaw?
Maybe, but there’s not much research out there on this topic. Here’s what’s known:
Annonacin is a chemical compound found in all Annonaceae fruits, from tropical soursops and custard apples to our subtropical pawpaws. Interestingly, annonacin has potential cancer-fighting medical benefits. However, it’s also known to be a potent neurotoxin that’s been shown to cause increased rates of neurodegenerative diseases (like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases) in lab rats and in human populations who regularly consume it.
We’re aware of all these warnings, but still eat pawpaws – albeit carefully. For us, pawpaws are a seasonal fruit, not something we eat daily or in high quantities. We also take *lion’s mane mushroom supplements every day of the year, which promotes neurogenesis while protecting against neurodegenerative diseases. Hopefully, that practice balances the equation!
III. Pawpaw harvesting and storage tips
Now for some helpful pawpaw harvesting and storage tips:
1. Picking or harvesting pawpaws
The best, most flavorful pawpaws are the ones that are slightly soft and have just fallen off the tree. When ripe, they should also have a delicious, tropical-fruity smell evident when the skin is still on.
Don’t pull unripe pawpaws off of the tree – and don’t eat unripe pawpaw fruit (unripe pawpaw fruit can also make you sick). If you give the tree a good shake and the fruit does not fall off on its own, it’s most likely hard, unripe, and not yet ready for harvest.
If you happen to find a pawpaw fruit that’s still barely clinging to the stem on the tree, it’s ok to pick those as well, but if it doesn’t yield with a tree shaking, leave that fruit on the tree to ripen further.
Two other common questions we hear:
a. Can unripe pawpaw fruit ripen off the tree?
It depends. If pawpaw fruit is fairly close to being ripe on its own, you can pick it hard and let it ripen over a few days on your counter at room temperature. This comes in handy if you’re far from home at a foraging spot that you won’t be able to return to by the time the fruit is fully ripe.
However, you can pick pawpaw fruit that’s too immature to fully ripen off the tree — or ripen to a flavor that tastes as good as it would if it had ripened on the tree. Again, eating unripe pawpaw fruit is likely to make you sick, so it’s best to only eat perfectly ripened pawpaws.
b. Do pawpaw skins turn yellow/orange when ripe or do they stay green?
There is a tremendous amount of genetic diversity in both wild and cultivated pawpaws. This diversity leads to different colors and flavors in the fruit, from tree to tree.
For instance, one of the pawpaw trees in our small forest garden produces fruit whose skin turns from green to yellow when ripe. However, we also grow and forage from pawpaw trees whose fruit stays fully green when ripe.
2. Storing pawpaw fruit
The primary reasons pawpaws have NOT been commercially successful/popular is because:
- They don’t seem to ripen to ideal flavor if picked when hard and unripe; and
- They’re typically quite thin-skinned, causing them to damage easily and have a very short shelf life.
Pawpaw’s absence from modern grocery store shelves has nothing to do with their flavor, because they are out-of-this-world delicious.
What does pawpaw fruit (Asimina triloba) taste like?
Pawpaws taste like a creamy combination of mangos, bananas, and persimmons. They’re like something you’d expect to find at a tropical fruit market in Costa Rica, not a forest trail in the Appalachian Mountains.
How long does pawpaw fruit last?
Once a ripe pawpaw is off the tree, it will last:
- about 2 days stored at room temperature,
- 5-7 days stored in the produce drawer of your fridge.
Do your best NOT to pile ripe pawpaw fruits on top of each other or put anything else on top of them. Doing so will cause the fruit to bruise and turn bad faster.
Keep this in mind when foraging the fruit as well – a ripe pawpaw can turn to mush if stacked deeply in a backpack during a hike. Yes, we know this from experience!
IV: How to eat fresh pawpaws
When gardening or foraging, we sometimes have what we refer to as a “good problem.” A huge haul of food that we can’t possibly eat before it goes bad.
For instance, we recently came back from a hike with 25 pounds of pawpaws from a prime foraging spot. With pawpaw trees at home to add to the haul, we have to process much of the fruit for later use because there’s no way we can eat it all fresh.
Plus, we generally avoid eating large quantities of pawpaws at once for reasons cited above.
1. First thing: how to eat fresh pawpaw fruit
If you’re new to the world of pawpaws, here’s a quick primer on how to eat them…
Step 1: Wash the fruit surface gently but thoroughly.
Your pawpaw fruit has likely been on the ground. To avoid the possibility of ingesting an unwanted dose of pathogenic microbes left behind by another critter, give each pawpaw fruit a gentle but thorough washing with warm soapy water. (We eat lots of strange things and have the microbiomes of feral goats, so we have been known to violate this rule when foraging.)
A soft sponge works great for cleaning pawpaws. Again, be gentle and try not to tear the pawpaws’ skin, because that will make it go bad faster and more difficult to store.
Step 2: Cut the fruit in half, longways.
Using a knife, make an incision all the way around the fruit longways.
Your knife will almost certainly encounter the large hard seeds inside, so don’t try to cut through the seeds. Just work around them and keep going. Once your knife is back to the starting point, twist the pawpaw with both hands, pulling it apart into two even halves.
Step 3: Spoon out the fruit, spit out the seeds.
Hold half of a pawpaw fruit in your hand at a time. Using a small spoon, scoop out and eat spoonfuls of the delicious soft pulp. The texture of ripe pawpaws is surprisingly creamy and smooth.
Pawpaw fruits’ thin skin is often bitter and shouldn’t be eaten. Just scrape out the fruit pulp and compost the skin. The large hard seeds of pawpaws are also inedible and should not be eaten.
Don’t discard the seeds! Sow them in an ideal wild habitat or in nursery pots at home. In ~5 years, you’ll have a new fruit-producing pawpaw tree!
To save space and potting soil, we typically start multiple pawpaw seeds in the same pots. Then when they go dormant at the end of their first year, we carefully separate them out into their own pots.
V: How to process pawpaw fruit for freezer storage
When you have larger quantities of pawpaw fruit that you need to process and freeze, here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Wash then cut the pawpaw fruit in half as per the instructions in the previous section.
Step 2: (For SMALLER batches – under 5 pounds) Scrape the pulp away from the seed with a knife.
If you only have 5 pounds of fruit or so, you might want to take the time to get every bit of pawpaw pulp you can fruit your fruit, including the pulp attached to the seeds.
The fruit pulp around the seeds will scrape right away with a knife. Put each half of pawpaw on a plate and scrape away at each exposed seed.
Pretty soon, you’ll have half of a pawpaw with no seeds inside.
ALTERNATE: (For LARGER batches, 5+ pounds) Scoop out pulp AND seeds and strain through chinois strainer.
When we have large batches of pawpaws to process and we’re not worried about getting every scrap of pulp from around the seeds, we use a chinois strainer.
Simply scoop the pawpaw pulp and seeds into the strainer, then toss the skins into the compost. We use both the pestle that comes with the strainer plus a silicone spatula to push as much pulp through the small openings as possible.
With a chinois strainer, we can process about 10 pounds of pawpaw fruit in 30 minutes, but some pulp is left on the seeds as you can see in the photo above. Also note that a chinois strainer will tun pawpaw pulp into a much finer texture but not as smooth as a food processor or blender, so you’ll probably want to puree the pulp in one of those tools before freezing.
In case you’re wondering, for every 1 pound of pawpaw fruit, you can expect to get about 1/2 cup of processed pulp. (*This ratio may not apply to certain bred varieties with smaller and fewer seeds.)
Step 3. Remove the fruit, leave the skin.
Now back to the small batch processing steps… Using a spoon, scrape out all the pulp.
The only thing that should be left after you’re done with the spoon is a thin layer of skin.
Step 4. Purée until smooth.
Once you’ve gone through the above steps with each of your pawpaws (assuming you’re not using a chinois strainer), you should have a large bowl of chunky pawpaw pulp. Sure, you can put this in the freezer as-is, but if you want to use your frozen pawpaw for recipes like our pawpaw passionfruit sorbet or no-bake pawpaw cheesecake, then large chunks of pawpaw fruit aren’t going to work.
This is where we use one of our absolute favorite kitchen tools: our Bamix immersion blender. It’s so much easier to use and clean than a food processor when you’re making soups, shakes, puddings, sauces, etc.
Alternately, you can use a standard food processor or blender.
Purée your pawpaw fruit until its silky smooth.
Step 5. Scoop into labeled freezer bags and freeze.
Almost done! Want to make “future you” happy? Measure out how much pawpaw purée you’re scooping into each ziplock freezer bag (or silicone bag), then using a sharpie pen, write the following information on to your freezer bag for future you:
- “pawpaw puree”
- quantity (fill in the blank)
- date processed (fill in the blank)
When future you goes looking for pawpaw purée for a recipe, they’ll be very happy with how well you planned ahead!
VI. Pawpaw fruit recipes
We don’t eat cooked pawpaws, only raw. If you’re looking for raw pawpaw recipe ideas, here are two we love:
1. No-bake pawpaw cheesecake with toasted nut crust. You’ll need a lot of pawpaws, but this recipe is out-of-this-world delicious!
We’ll be adding more pawpaw recipes as we create them. In the meantime, rest assured that pawpaws are so delicious eaten fresh/raw, that you can eat them as-is or blend them into unforgettable drinks and smoothies. That’s to say, they don’t require anything fancy to be delicious.
Now you know how to eat and process pawpaw fruit. We hope you enjoy this delicious native fruit as much as we do!
If you want to order pawpaw trees for your garden, here’s a good source. Note that pawpaws are NOT self-fertile. So you’ll want to order at least two pawpaw trees and plant them relatively close together (no more than 20 yards apart) to get good fruit production.
Other Tyrant Farms’ pawpaw articles you’ll enjoy:
- How to grow pawpaw trees organically
- Recipe: pawpaw passionfruit sorbet recipe
- Recipe: No-bake pawpaw cheesecake with toasted nut crust