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. While the name sounds exotic (and is not commonly found in local grocery stores), this fruit is native to North America. In fact, they are the largest edible fruit trees indigenous to the continent, dating back to 1541.

Pawpaw fruit also has historical significance. Some say that George Washington commonly ate the sweet treat for dessert. Thomas Jefferson is believed to have planted pawpaw trees at his home in Virginia. And government sources state that pawpaw fruit sustained the Lewis and Clark expedition in western Missouri during their return trip to the east in the fall of 1810 when their food supplies were low.

Pawpaw fruit has a dull, often-spotted outer skin but 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.

Nutrition Facts

Nutritional information for pawpaw fruit varies based on the size of the fruit. The USDA does not provide information for this food as it is not widely consumed. The following nutrition information is provided by a university source for approximately 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of pawpaw flesh without skin or seeds.

  • Calories: 80
  • Fat: 1.2g
  • Carbohydrates: 18.8g
  • Fiber: 2.6g
  • Protein: 1.2g

Carbs in Pawpaw Fruit

Pawpaw fruit is a relatively high-calorie fruit, with most of the calories coming from carbohydrates. The fruit is higher in calories than an apple or an orange and just a few calories less than a banana.

There are different types of carbohydrates in pawpaw fruit. You'll get 2.6 grams of fiber if you consume the flesh of a whole fruit. The USDA recommends that adults consume between 22 and 33 grams of fiber per day based on age and gender. Consuming fiber not only improves digestion and regularity, but it also provides many other health benefits, including decreased risk of some types of cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

The rest of the carbohydrate in pawpaw fruit is sugar and starch, which provide the body with quick energy.

The glycemic index of pawpaw fruit has not been established.

Fats in Pawpaw Fruit

There is a very small amount of fat in pawpaw fruit, just over one gram in a single serving. However, it is important to note that if you cook with pawpaw fruit, most of the recipes that include the fruit tend to be higher in fat, such as baked goods, custards, and ice cream.

Protein in Pawpaw Fruit

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

Micronutrients in Pawpaw Fruit

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.

Vitamin C helps to boost your body's immune system, builds collagen and improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help your body repair the damage from free radicals.

Pawpaw fruit also provides about 2.6 mg of manganese—which is more than the adequate intake established by the National Institutes of Health for men and women. Manganese is important for enzyme function in the body and other functions including blood clotting and metabolism.

The fruit is also a good source of iron (7 mg), and magnesium (113 mg). The fruit also contains smaller amounts of vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and thiamine.

Health Benefits

Some homeopaths use pawpaw to treat fever, vomiting, or inflammation of the mouth and throat. However, few researchers have studied pawpaw fruit and there is little evidence to support these claims. Pawpaw fruit is also purported to aid in the fight against cancer and head lice.

Cancer

Products that contain extracts from the twig of the pawpaw plant are sometimes consumed as an anticancer treatment. An in vitro study published in 2011 indicating that pawpaw extract may have an effect on tumor cells. Study authors concluded that there may be potential for it to be used as anticancer alternative medicine. 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 cancer patients concluded that taking a 12.5 mg capsule of pawpaw extract taken four times daily for 18 months reduced tumor size. However, the patients were also undergoing conventional treatments at the same time so there is no way to know if the extract caused the effect, if the cancer treatments caused the effect, or if a combination of treatments caused the effect. The study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal and the results have not been duplicated in recent research.

Studies performed on mice have shown that the fruit may contain certain compounds that may be active in the fight against ovarian cancer and leukemia. But the studies are dated and no recent research has confirmed this benefit.

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.

A 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.

Common Questions

Is pawpaw fruit the same as papaya?

No. The fruits 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.

Is pawpaw known by other names?

Yes, this fruit has a wide variety of names including:

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

How should I select the best fresh pawpaw fruit?

Pawpaws that are ripened on the tree have the best flavor. For that reason, many hikers look for pawpaw. And cooks that use them often harvest them directly from the tree rather than shopping for them at the market.

If you see them in the store or at a farmers market, some say that picking the best pawpaw is like picking the best 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.

How do you eat pawpaw fruit? Can I eat all of it?

Many say that is it best consumed right off the tree so there is no bruising. Simply remove the skin and bite into the soft fruit. The interior flesh is edible but the skin and seeds are not.

When is pawpaw fruit in season?

Peak season for pawpaw fruit is in the early fall, usually September to October.

Where can I buy pawpaw fruit?

Unfortunately, this fruit does not travel well. It is soft and ripe when picked so it is hard to ship to markets around the country as it bruises easily. It also has a very short shelf-life.

You are most likely to find the fruit in local farmers' markets in the mid-Atlantic and some midwestern states including Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Michigan even has a city named after the fruit.

Can I store pawpaw fruit?

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 the pawpaw puree to keep it fresh.

Can you freeze pawpaw fruit?

You don't want to freeze the whole fruit but the flesh of paw can be frozen. Simply scoop it in an airtight back and place in the freezer for up to six months.

Can I grow pawpaw?

Yes, In fact, there are numerous resources available to help you grow pawpaw if you live in one of the temperate climate zones of North America. Several species are available. Pawpaw requires warm summer temperatures and cool winters. You also need space to accommodate its growth. A mature pawpaw can grow up to 25 feet tall. Expect it to take about four years and possibly up to eight years for your pawpaw tree to produce fruit.

Recipes and Preparation Tips

Like bananas, pawpaw fruit blends well with dairy products. Some people stir it into yogurt. Others add it to oatmeal and some even spread it onto toast. Chefs have been known to make creamy desserts such as pudding, panna cotta, flan, or ice cream with the fruit. Pawpaw cheesecake is another popular dessert.

Pawpaw can 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 consistency that is softer than that of a banana.

If you usually use applesauce as a low-fat replacement for oil in baking recipes, consider using pawpaw puree instead. Some healthy 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.

Allergies and Interactions

Pawpaw is usually safe when consumed as food. However, the USDA reports 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 Sloane 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. They state that these compounds may have beneficial effects but may also have botanical pesticide qualities. Researchers have also expressed concern, specifically about the acetogenins in twigs, unripe fruit, seeds, roots, and bark tissues of the fruit.

In a 2009 study, researchers stated that acetogenin compounds contained in 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 with overconsumption of these compounds. They suggest that an assessment of the potential human health risks of pawpaw overconsumption should be pursued.

It is not known if this fruit interact with medications.

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Article Sources
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