Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tasty pawpaws abundant in Ozarks this fall

A wild Missouri fruit - known as pawpaw – can be a nutritious and tasty treat for anyone lucky enough to find them at a farmer’s markets in the Ozarks this fall.
“Pawpaw season is late August to October,” said Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist, University of Missouri Extension. “They really are a refreshing tropical-tasting fruit.”
Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit native to North America. The fruits vary in size, shape, flavor, and color, but are generally three to six inches long by one to three inches wide.
Some fruits can weigh as much as a pound or more. The oblong pawpaw fruit has lots of seeds, is very perishable and can easily get torn up during shipping.
The flavor is unique but often compared with banana, mango, and pineapple. But according to Roberts, the fruit is still pretty rare, unless you have a tree on your land.
Andrew Thomas, horticulture research associate with the University of Missouri, is conducting experiments at Southwest Center near Mount Vernon, Mo., to determine whether pawpaws can be profitably produced and processed.
The pawpaw tree is small and attractive with long, droopy leaves and striking, deep purple flowers that appear in early spring.
"Pawpaw trees grow all over Missouri along streams and in shady conditions, especially in southern Missouri. Although wild pawpaws produce good fruit, as with most native wild fruit trees, there is tremendous room for horticultural improvement,” Thomas said.
Thomas is doing the pawpaw study with identical plantings at Missouri’s Southwest Center, the Missouri State University Fruit Experiment Station in Mountain Grove, Mo., and The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Poteau, Okla.
“A pawpaw is green in color but gets lighter as it ripens. The color of the fruit is not the best way to judge if it is ripe. If the fruit is easy to pick from the tree, if the skin gives when you gently squeeze it, and if it has a strong pleasant aroma, then it is ripe,” said Roberts.
Once a pawpaw is ripe, it only lasts a few days at room temperature. That makes this fruit a real challenge for commercial development.
It can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator. According to Roberts, it can also be stored in the refrigerator as a not fully ripe fruit for up to three weeks and then taken out and allowed to ripen at room temperature.
“Pawpaw can be pureed and frozen for later use once the skin and seeds are removed. They can also be frozen whole,” said Roberts.
Nutritionally, a pawpaw is similar to a banana according to Roberts.
“The pawpaw has a little bit more vitamin C, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc and a little less carbohydrate and potassium than the banana,” said Roberts.
A pawpaw also has 10.4 grams of fiber (we need about 25 milligrams of fiber each day).
Pawpaw trees thrive in fertile, well drained, slightly acidic soil. In Missouri, they are often found along river and creek banks.
Kentucky State University lists several recipes using pawpaws including pies, custards, cookies, cakes, quick breads and even ice cream. The University also has a website that provides other detailed information on the pawpaw at
For more information on nutrition issues, contact Tammy Roberts, a nutrition and health education specialist, at (417) 682-3579.

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