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New Crops News, Spring 1994, vol. 4 no. 1

Pawpaws Provide Potential

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba)--the largest fruit native to the United States--has the potential to become a popular flavor, according to Carol Karahadian, food chemist, and Bruce Bordelon, horticulturist, at Purdue. Pawpaws are native to 21 states in the eastern United States, although they are most commonly found in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. A member of the Annonaceae (tropical custard apple family), the pawpaw, unlike its tropical relatives, is hardy to -30°F. The pawpaw was a popular fruit in the United States early in the 20th century, but has been relegated to a local delicacy. The yellow-brown fruits are about the size of a potato with a texture like a very ripe banana, hence their name "Indiana banana." The taste is reminiscent of papaya with pineapple overtones, with bits of banana and mango. It has a very sweet, pleasant, tropical fruit flavor that is like no other and is very rich, making it unlikely that you will want to eat more than one. Extremely aromatic when cut open, pawpaws will fill a whole room with their fruity aroma.

One of the difficulties with pawpaws is that they deteriorate just as they are the tastiest. The intensity of fruitiness peaks at ripeness, but then the fruit drops. The fruits do ripen off the tree, but because they ripen quickly and bruise easily, they are almost impossible to get to market in a usable form.

Jerry McLaughlin, medicinal chemist at Purdue, has located a compound in the bark of the trees that has shown preliminary success as a botanical insecticide (asimicin) and others with anti-cancer properties (acetogeninins). A trial of 40 varieties of pawpaw is underway at Purdue with support form Purdue's New Crops Center.

Pawpaw trees are available from: