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Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is the only temperate plant within the Annonaceae family, which includes many tropical fruits such as the Cherimoya (Annona cherimola) (Layne, 1996). The pawpaw tree produces the largest edible fruit native to North America (Pomper and Layne, 2005). Pawpaw trees grow naturally in 26 states throughout the eastern United States and also in southwestern Ontario, Canada (Sullivan, 1993). Pawpaw fruit has a creamy custardy texture and is said to have the flavors of banana, mango and pineapple (Sullivan, 1993). Ohio holds a yearly pawpaw festival in September where one can learn, taste, and compete in contests all pertaining to the yummy fruit. Not only is the fruit delicious to humans, the Zebra Swallowtail Caterpillar (Protographium Marcellus) relies on the foliage of pawpaw tree for survival (but is not considered a pest of the plant) (Seale & Floyd, 2011).
The marketing season for fresh pawpaw is relatively short. Depending on the cultivar, the fruit can mature as early as the beginning of August and continue through the first frost around mid October (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009).
The fruit papaya (Carica papaya) is also commonly referred to as pawpaw, however, pawpaw (Asimina triloba), and papaya (Carica papaya) are separate fruit. When marketing pawpaw, one might consider using an identifier title such as North American Native Pawpaw to differentiate between the two.
Currently the main markets for fresh pawpaw are farmers’ markets, and less often online retailers. Having free samples for people is a great strategy when marketing, especially for customers not familiar with your product and reluctant to purchase without tasting. Another strategy when marketing an unusual fruit is to have free literature describing the fruit and its uses (Ames & Greer, 2010). Focusing on the nutritional composition of pawpaw is another way value can be added. Pawpaw has a similar nutritional composition to banana, but is higher in vitamin C, and niacin; when compared to apples, bananas and oranges, pawpaws are higher in the minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Pawpaws also have more essential amino acids (proteins) than apples; in fact, they contain all the essential amino acids, similar to bananas and oranges (Sullivan, 1993).
To further add value, pawpaw fruit has been processed into pulp, which can be used to make many different products such as ice cream, vinaigrette, preserves, and beer. A company named Integration Acres in Albany, Ohio, claims to be the world’s largest processor of pawpaws, and sells frozen pulp of the fruit, thus allowing year-round marketing (Bir, 2019).
In recent years (2014-2015) fresh pawpaw sold at farmers’ markets for $4.50 to $5 per pound, and up to $8 per pound through an upscale grocery store. The price for fresh pawpaw bought online is even higher per pound due to additional packing and shipping costs (Chung, 2014) (Dingfelder, 2014) (Rocky Point Farm, 2020). Integration Acres sells their frozen pawpaw pulp for $12 per 2 pounds (not including shipping costs), and the prices for other processed pawpaw products vary depending on the type of product sold.
There are two categories of pawpaw trees: wild and cultivated. Stands of wild pawpaw grow naturally throughout eastern North America and can also be grown intentionally by seedlings and seed germination for production. However, wild pawpaw can be prone to disadvantages such as smaller fruit and slightly bitter aftertaste (Durand, 2009). Therefore, certain pawpaw cultivars displaying more desirable traits (larger fruit, better taste) have been selected for and are grafted (Pomper et al, 2009).
Pawpaw seedlings are very sensitive to sunlight. Therefore they naturally grow as understory trees. When establishing an orchard, it is best to provide shade for the seedlings up through their second year. However, the tree performs best when planted in full sunlight once mature and will start producing fruit between five to seven years (Sullivan, 1993).
Although there are cultivars that are desirable for production in ways of larger fruit and better taste, there are still challenges to overcome for pawpaw to become a widely available commercial crop. Pawpaw fruit is extremely delicate. Fresh fully ripe pawpaw is easy to bruise; is only consumable for two to three days at room temperature; and can last for about a week in regular refrigeration. However, pawpaw fruits are climacteric, meaning they have the ability to continue ripening off the tree. Thus they can be picked when close to—but not fully—ripe. If carefully harvested this way, the fruits can last for three weeks in cold storage and will finish ripening when placed in room temperature (Petersen Pawpaws, n.d.). This characteristic plus continued research of the fruit (production of better cultivars) and heightened consumer awareness gives hope for pawpaw becoming more commercially available in the near future.
Exports/Imports/United States Consumption
Since pawpaw is an emerging fruit crop, there is currently no export, import or per capita consumption data available.
Pollination is one of the most limiting factors regarding fruit production of pawpaw. Pawpaw trees are self-incompatible, meaning that they need to be pollinated by genetically different pawpaw cultivars (cross pollination). Thus more than one cultivar must be planted when establishing an orchard. Another dilemma relating to pollination of pawpaw is the method in which they are pollinated. The pawpaw is naturally pollinated by various species of flies and beetles which are inefficient; thus hand pollination is often employed to ensure successful fruit set. Hand pollination requires additional labor, but is manageable. However, growers should not over-pollinate. Excessive fruit load on the tree can result in smaller overall fruit size, as well as limb breakage (Jones et al, 2009).
Helpful enterprise budget for pawpaw:
- Pawpaw – Economic Considerations, University of Kentucky – Cooperative Extension, 2012.
Pawpaw - A "Tropical" Fruit for Temperate Climates - A National Sustainable Agriculture Assistance Program (ATTRA)
Ames, G. & Greer, L., 2010. Pawpaw: A “Tropical” Fruit for Temperate Climates – Marketing, A National Sustainable Agriculture Assistance Program (ATTRA).
Bir, S., 2019. Pawpaws: America’s best secret fruit. SeriousEats.com
Chung, J., 2014. Rare Sighting: Forgotten “Tropical” Fruit, The Pawpaw, now on sale at Dean and Deluca, in Food at gothamist.com.
Cultural Advice - Storing Fruit, Peterson Pawpaws, n.d.
Dingfelder, S., 2014. Where to find pawpaws, North America’s largest edible native fruit, The Washington Post.
Durand, F., 2009. Have you ever tried a Pawpaw? Here’s how they taste, TheKitchn.com
Fresh Pawpaw Fruit, Rocky Point Farm, 2020.
Layne, D.R., 1996. The pawpaw [Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal]: A new fruit crop for Kentucky and The United States, HortScience, 31: 777-784
Seale, L. & Floyd, D., 2011. Connections: The Pawpaw Tree and the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly, Blue Ridge Discovery Center Blog.
Sullivan, Janet. Asimina triloba. In: Fire Effects Information System, United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, 1993.