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 (e.g. “process pawpaw fruit”).
Whichever describes your predicament, you’ll find the answers to your questions in this article!
Pawpaws are a perennial fruit tree that made our top-5 fruit & nut tree list 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 high 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 for later use. Below, we’ll share our pawpaw harvesting and processing tips to help you do the same.
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 fresh/raw pawpaw.
Pawpaw consumption safety parameters:
- A small percentage of people will experience some GI distress from eating fresh/raw pawpaw fruit. This is not unusual — for every food on earth, you can find someone who is allergic (this is true of common foods like eggs, nuts, dairy, etc).
- Eating cooked/baked pawpaw fruit increases the risk of GI distress.
- Eating dehydrated pawpaw fruit increases the risk of GI distress to such a degree that you should NOT make or consume dehydrated pawpaw fruit. (If you need any more convincing, read the warnings and personal accounts of people who ate dried pawpaw fruit via a newsletter from The Ohio Chapter of the North American Pawpaw Growers Association’s.)
Also note that some people may experience contact allergies from pawpaw fruit skins.
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. (Personal note: We’ve had a family member 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 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. What’s odd about annonacin is it has potential cancer-fighting medical benefits, BUT it’s also a known 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, especially in large doses.
We’re aware of all these warnings, but still eat pawpaws. For us, they’re 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!
(*We use lion’s mane capsules from Host Defense, Paul Stamet’s company.)
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.
Don’t pull unripe pawpaws off of the tree. If you give the tree a good shake and the fruit does not fall off on its own, it’s most certainly 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.
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 colored and flavored fruit from tree to tree.
For instance, one of the pawpaw trees in our 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.
Trust us, pawpaw’s absence from 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 fruit on top of each other or put anything else on top of them as this will cause them 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.
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 despite our best efforts, there’s no way we can eat it all fresh.
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, so 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 here. Again, be gentle and try not to tear the pawpaws’ skin, because that will make it 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 can sometimes be bitter; if so, just scrape out the fruit and compost the skin. However, sometimes the skins are almost tasteless and *can be eaten right along with the fruit pulp.
(*This applies only to eating the fruit directly; you probably wouldn’t want to include the skins in any recipes, even if it’s mild in flavor since it can add a grainy texture.)
The large hard seeds of pawpaws are inedible, so you want to avoid eating them.
The inedible seeds are also covered with fruit pulp. You can spoon them into your mouth, and with equal parts nibbling and slurping, you should be able to produce a clean pawpaw seed within a matter of a few seconds.
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 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 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 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 puddings, sorbet (our pawpaw passionfruit sorbet recipe is downright sublime), breads, etc, then 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
Looking for pawpaw recipe ideas? Here are two we love:
1. No-bake pawpaw cheesecake with toasted nut crust (fairly difficult and time-consuming to make, but 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
- Recipe: pawpaw passionfruit sorbet recipe
- Recipe: No-bake pawpaw cheesecake with toasted nut crust
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ChipOctober 15, 2022 at 10:10 am
I have two different paw-paw trees planted, both provide more than enough fruits every year. I need to know how to prepare unripe paw=paws for eating, if doable.
Aaron von FrankOctober 17, 2022 at 10:29 am
The flavor and texture of unripe pawpaws render them inedible. If you harvest them within 2-3 days of when they’d naturally ripen on the tree you can pick them early and let them ripen on the counter. However, if you pick unripe pawpaws any earlier than that time window, they will not ripen off the tree no matter how long you let them sit. We’ve come to that conclusion based on experimentation with lots of different pawpaw fruit across lots of different trees.
Bill & Debbie MaloneSeptember 18, 2022 at 3:04 pm
Just a note, we live in Southern Indiana & have tons of Paw Paw trees in our woods. Just picked up about 60 fruits. The woods smell so wonderful as the fruit bears a lovely fragrance.
Gerry JaworskiAugust 3, 2022 at 11:05 am
A bird dropped seeds apparently. I’m in NW Ohio and this gorgeous looking southern tree brings in at least 50 paw paw fruit. Second year they’ve grown.
Aaron von FrankAugust 3, 2022 at 11:34 am
Lucky you! Given the size of pawpaw seeds, it was most likely a mammal (such as a raccoon, possum, or skunk) who brought pawpaw seeds to your yard via their scat. Birds might peck at pawpaw fruit, but they wouldn’t be able to eat the seeds.
jakohar97July 15, 2022 at 3:01 pm
Very interesting article, I love these things. I enjoy them fresh and have also had jams made from them -delicious! However, when I tried to freeze them they tasted pretty bad. Any ideas why?
Aaron von FrankJuly 16, 2022 at 7:36 am
No matter what you do, frozen fruit (including pawpaw fruit) usually doesn’t taste as good as fresh because of the cellular damage that happens during freezing. This effect is made much worse if there’s freezer burn and/or if the fruit is frozen for multiple years prior to consumption. Here are a few things that will help ensure the best possible flavor of frozen pawpaw and other fruit:
1) Use freezer bags instead of standard ziplocks bags. (Or use silicone bags if you want a plastic alternative.)
2) Vacuum seal your bags before putting them in your freezer. You can buy devices for this, but I just do it by sealing all but the far corner of a ziplock then sucking the air out with my mouth before quickly sealing the remaining section shut.
3) Eat your frozen fruit within months or no more than a year.
Hope this helps!
jakohar97July 19, 2022 at 11:34 pm
Thank you for the advice!
ElaineSeptember 26, 2021 at 1:07 pm
Will paw paw trees grow in California (Northern)?
Aaron von FrankSeptember 27, 2021 at 12:30 pm
Hi Elaine! Pawpaws should do ok in northern California since you have higher humidity, but probably not in southern California where it’s hotter and dryer. What I don’t know about your area is how many winter chill hours you average. Pawpaws generally require a minimum of 400 chill hours/sub-freezing winter temps while they’re dormant in order to produce fruit. There is a lot of pawpaw breeding work going on around the country, so perhaps you could search for: a) pawpaws bred for west coast conditions, and b) pawpaws with lower chill hour requirements. That way, you can be sure to get a cultivar(s) ideally suited to your location. Hope this helps!
Brandie GruenewaldSeptember 23, 2021 at 7:58 pm
This article is so helpful. I came across pawpaw last year on a hike by my house. I was like what the heck is this then did my research. By that time, they were all brown and on the ground being eaten by the forest floor. So I marked my calendar for Sept 2021 and here we are! I foraged about 10 from the same park and am using your guide to prepare them as we speak! Thank you so much for the information and inspiration!
Aaron von FrankSeptember 24, 2021 at 12:41 pm
Ooh, lucky you! Nice to have a wild pawpaw patch near your house. Glad this article was helpful and hope you get to enjoy some pawpaw fruit this year. It’s absolutely delicious. Do keep in mind that there can be some variability between pawpaw ripening time from year to year depending on the weather (example: ours was 3-4 weeks later this year than last year). Can’t hurt to check your spot(s) a little early each year to see how they’re coming along and make sure you don’t miss them. Give those pawpaw trees a good shake and cover your head!