Pawpaw Fruit Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

pawpaw-fruit-on-tree

 Wikimedia Commons

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a green, oval-shaped fruit that is harvested in the fall throughout the Eastern United States and Canada. It has a dull, often spotted outer skin with a soft, yellow interior that yields sweet custard-like flesh and large brown seeds. Many compare the taste and texture of the fruit to that of a banana or a mango.

Pawpaw can be used in desserts like custard, ice cream, or baked goods. Some also use it to make beverages, including craft beer. Pawpaw is low in calories and has three times as much vitamin C and three times as much riboflavin as an apple.

Pawpaw Fruit Nutrition Facts

The USDA does not provide information for this food as it is not widely consumed. According to Kentucky State University, one 100-gram serving of pawpaw fruit provides 80 calories, 1.2g of protein, 18.8g of carbohydrates, and 1.2g of fat. Pawpaw fruit also provides vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium and calcium.

  • Calories: 80
  • Fat: 1.2g
  • Carbohydrates: 18.8g
  • Fiber: 2.6g
  • Protein: 1.2g
  • Vitamin C: 18.3mg
  • Potassium: 345mg
  • Calcium: 63mg

Carbs

You'll consume 18.8 grams of carbohydrate, of which 2.6 grams come from fiber, when you eat a 100-gram serving of the fruit. However, the fruit was tested with the skin on, even though pawpaw skin is not edible.

The Nutritionix database suggests that a one-cup serving of chopped pawpaw (145g) contains 16g carbs (2.5 g fiber and 11g sugar). The glycemic index of pawpaw fruit has not been established.

Fats

There is a very small amount of fat in pawpaw fruit, just 1.2 grams in a single serving. However, most of the recipes that include the fruit tend to be higher in fat, such as baked goods, custards, and ice cream.

Protein

Pawpaw fruit also provides a small amount of protein. The flesh of one medium fruit provides 1.2 grams of protein. 

Vitamins and Minerals

The flesh of pawpaw fruit provides a healthy dose of vitamin C. You'll benefit from 18.3 mg or 22% of your recommended daily intake if you consume a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet. That is less than you'd get from an orange but far more than you'd get when consuming an apple or banana.

Pawpaw fruit provides about 2.6 mg of manganese, which is more than the daily value (DV) of 2.3 mg established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Manganese is important for enzyme function in the body, and other processes including blood clotting and metabolism.

The fruit is also an excellent source of iron, providing 7 mg or 38% of the DV, and magnesium (113mg or 26.9% of the DV). Pawpaw fruit also provides 63 mg of calcium (4.8% of DV) and 345 mg of potassium or about 7.3% of the DV. Smaller amounts of niacin and riboflavin are also provided.

Calories

A 100-gram serving of pawpaw fruit provides about 80 calories. About 91% come from carbohydrate, 5% from fat, and 4% from protein.

Summary

Pawpaw fruit is rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, manganese, iron, and magnesium, and like most fruits is low in calories and fat. You'll benefit from 18.8 grams of carbohydrate when you consume the fruit and possibly up to 2.6 grams of fiber, although nutritional data is limited.

Health Benefits

Pawpaw has been used in homeopathic medicine to treat fever, vomiting, and inflammation of the mouth and throat. However, few researchers have studied pawpaw fruit and there is little evidence to support these claims.

May Help Treat Cancer

Products that contain extracts from the twig of the pawpaw plant are sometimes consumed as an anticancer treatment. An in vitro study indicated that pawpaw extract may have an effect on tumor cells. However, the evidence supporting the use of pawpaw in humans is limited, dated, and subjective.

For example, a widely cited study performed in 2001 on 94 people with cancer concluded that taking pawpaw extract daily for 18 months reduced tumor size. However, the patients were also undergoing conventional treatments at the same time. The study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal and the results have not been duplicated in recent research.

A 2021 study suggested that pawpaw extracts might be used as natural therapeutic agents for the prevention and treatment of gastric and cervical cancers. But the in vitro study was limited and researchers encouraged further studies on the anti-inflammatory potential of the pawpaw to understand the connection with more clarity.

Older research on mice showed that pawpaw fruit may contain certain compounds that may be active against ovarian cancer and leukemia. And a 2018 study also suggested that acetogenins in pawpaw inhibit the growth of cancer cells. But all of the studies are limited in scope and none have been conducted on humans.

Increases Antioxidant Activity

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help your body repair damage caused by free radicals, which are found in the environment and also produced by the body. Pawpaw fruit is known to provide antioxidants.

Researchers suggest that the unripe fruit has greater antioxidant potential, but even the ripe fruit provides antioxidants and may help delay the aging process. In addition, they suggest that the fruit could also potentially be utilized as a potential antimicrobial agent.

May Help Treat Head Lice

There is some evidence that a combination of pawpaw fruit and tea tree oil may help treat head lice. Some users apply pawpaw extract to the scalp to eradicate lice or nits. But research on this use of the fruit is very limited.

One study published in the journal Phytomedicine determined that a shampoo made from the ingredients was "100% effective" in treating the condition. But this study is also dated and more recent studies have not been conducted.

Scientists would have to study each ingredient separately to know for sure if pawpaw alone or in combination has any verifiable effect. In addition, some users have reported skin problems when using the extract topically.

Allergies

Reports of pawpaw allergy are lacking. If you have allergies to other similar fruits, such as papaya, speak to your healthcare provider before consuming pawpaw.

Adverse Effects

Pawpaw is usually safe when consumed as food. However, the USDA and other health agencies have reported that people have suffered from nerve toxicity, vomiting, diarrhea, and allergic reactions when consuming the fruit.

Pawpaw extract may also cause these reactions. For this reason, medical sources including the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recommend that pregnant women do not consume pawpaw fruit.

There are also concerns about consuming pawpaw seeds. The USDA reports that parts of the pawpaw plant—including the seeds—contain alkaloids, phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, tannins, flavonoids, and acetogenins. These compounds may have beneficial effects, but may also have pesticide qualities. Researchers have also expressed concern about the acetogenins in pawpaw twigs, unripe fruit, roots, skin, and bark.

In a 2009 study, researchers found that overconsumption of acetogenin compounds from pawpaw fruit relatives (such as soursop) and tea made from the leaves of these plants may lead to an increased risk of atypical Parkinsonism later in life. They suggest that an assessment of the potential human health risks of pawpaw overconsumption should be pursued.fpa

It is not known if this fruit interacts with medications.

Varieties

Pawpaw fruit and papaya are often confused, but they are different. Both have an oval shape, green skin, brown seeds and edible fruit, but papaya is a tropical fruit often grown in Mexico or Central America. It has a sweeter taste often compared to a melon.

Pawpaw fruit is also known by a wide variety of names including:

  • False banana
  • Pawpaw apple
  • Custard banana
  • Poor man's banana
  • Hoosier banana

When It’s Best

Pawpaw fruit is in season from end of August through October. You are most likely to find the fruit in farmers' markets in the mid-Atlantic region and some midwestern states.

Pawpaws that are ripened on the tree have the best flavor. Cooks that use them often harvest them directly from the tree if they can.

If you see pawpaws for sale, choose one as you would a fresh peach. Don't be alarmed if you see black spots on the fruit, as these blemishes are typical. The skin should have a slight give to it, but it should not feel bruised or mushy.

Storage and Food Safety

Pawpaw does not store well. You may be able to keep the whole fruit at room temperature for up to three days if you buy one that is ripe. An underripe pawpaw may keep in the refrigerator for one to three weeks. But this fruit damages easily, so store it carefully.

Once the flesh is removed from the fruit it usually does not keep for more than a day. Some cooks add lemon to pawpaw puree to keep it fresh. You can freeze the flesh of the pawpaw in an airtight bag for up to six months.

How to Prepare

To eat pawpaw raw, remove the skin and bite into the soft fruit. The interior flesh is edible, but the skin and seeds are not.

Like bananas, pawpaw blends well with dairy products. Stir it into yogurt, add it to oatmeal, or even spread it onto toast. Or take advantage of the pawpaw's creamy flavor and texture and make it into pudding, panna cotta, flan, ice cream or cheesecake.

Pawpaw can also be baked into breads, cakes, muffins, and cookies. The flesh has a texture that is almost a puree, so it can be used as a wet ingredient in recipes. Some bakers substitute pawpaw for recipes that call for mashed banana. However, you may need to cut back on other wet ingredients to accommodate for the very soft consistency.

If you usually use applesauce as a low-fat replacement for oil in baking recipes, consider using pawpaw puree instead. Some cooks feel that it imparts a texture that is more similar to fat and makes baked good taste better.

Lastly, pawpaw can easily be added to your favorite smoothie recipe. Consider adding it to one of these drinks instead of or in addition to a banana.

Recipes

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