Paw­paws: The Trop­i­cal Fruit Of Mis­souri

McDonald County Press - - AGRICULTURE -

SPRINGFIELD — Most peo­ple in the Mid­west are fa­mil­iar with the tra­di­tional folk song about pick­ing paw­paws, “way down yon­der in the paw­paw patch.” But, where is the paw­paw patch and what in the world is a paw­paw?

“Paw­paws may be the best Mis­souri na­tive fruit that you have never eaten,” said Dr. Pam Duits­man, nu­tri­tion spe­cial­ist with Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri Ex­ten­sion. “The paw­paws is the largest edi­ble fruit na­tive to the United States.”

His­tor­i­cally, paw­paws were eaten by Na­tive Amer­i­cans, set­tlers, and ad­ven­tur­ers in­clud­ing Lewis and Clark. Paw­paws were planted by Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton at Mount Ver­non, and by Thomas Jef­fer­son at Mon­ti­cello. They grow wild in the Mid­west, and grow statewide in Mis­souri, ex­cept for in a few far-north­ern coun­ties.

The paw­paw trees of­ten sucker and grow in thick­ets, in moist, shaded ar­eas such as lower slopes and ravines, along streams, and at the base of wooded bluffs.

Har­vest time for paw­paws is be­tween Au­gust and Oc­to­ber in Mis­souri, de­pend­ing on the cul­ti­var.

The fla­vor of the sweet fruit has been de­scribed as a creamy, cus­tardy mango ba­nana — hav­ing an ex­otic taste.

Paw­paws are oval, sim­i­lar to a mango, and have a mot­tled green ex­te­rior, with lima bean-sized black seeds. The ma­ture paw­paw will likely be be­tween 3 and 6 inches long, with skin turn­ing yel­low as the fruit ma­tures and ripens, just about the time they are fall­ing off the tree.

In time, the fruit will turn brown much like an over­ripe ba­nana. Ripeness can be de­ter­mined in sim­i­lar ways to that of a peach — by the soft­ness of the fruit, and the pleas­ant aroma. To eat, just cut in half, peel the thin skin away and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

Nu­tri­tional Value

“Paw­paws are very nu­tri­tious, con­tain­ing three times as much vi­ta­min C as an ap­ple, and twice as much as a ba­nana,” said Duits­man.

Paw­paws are also good sources of mag­ne­sium, iron, cop­per, man­ganese, potas­sium, ri­boflavin, niacin, phos­pho­rus and zinc; and are higher in pro­tein than most fruits, con­tain­ing all of the es­sen­tial amino acids. A whole paw­paw con­tains about 80 calo­ries, 1.2 grams of fat, and 2.6 grams of di­etary fiber.

“Paw­paws also con­tain phy­to­chem­i­cals in the phe­no­lic and flavonoid fam­i­lies — thought to pro­mote health and help pre­vent dis­ease,” said Duits­man.

Specif­i­cally, pro­cyani­din (in the flavonoid fam­ily), has strong an­tiox­i­dant ac­tiv­ity and has been cor­re­lated with re­duced risk of coro­nary heart dis­ease and mor­tal­ity in re­cent re­search stud­ies.

Find­ing, Grow­ing

Paw­paws

“Although this amaz­ing, lo­cal trop­i­cal fruit is healthy and de­li­cious, you will not find it on gro­cer’s shelves. Cur­rently, there are not enough grow­ers of paw­paw to pro­vide the quan­tity needed to sell re­tail,” said Duits­man.

A po­ten­tially big­ger bar­rier to gro­cer ac­cess is that paw­paws are highly per­ish­able, do not ship or travel well, and only last a few days at room tem­per­a­ture. If re­frig­er­ated, a paw­paw may keep up to three weeks. The flesh of the ripe fruit can be pureed and frozen for later use.

“If you want to get back to grow­ing lo­cal and hon­or­ing the her­itage of Mis­souri foods, try grow­ing paw­paws. They grow well in the lo­cal cli­mate, have few pests, and are rel­a­tively care­free. Grown from seeds, plants can be­gin bear­ing fruit within five years.

Con­sider the paw­paw va­ri­eties Shenan­doah, Susque­hanna, Over­leese, Sun­flower, and PA Golden, all of which have per­formed well in re­search tri­als at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri South­west Re­search Cen­ter.

More In­for­ma­tion

Pa­trick By­ers, Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri Ex­ten­sion hor­ti­cul­ture spe­cial­ist, rec­om­mends plant­ing at least two trees or va­ri­eties for cross-pol­li­na­tion. By­ers and oth­ers are fea­tur­ing paw­paws at Fall Field Day held at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri South­west Re­search Cen­ter on Sept. 9.

For de­tails about this pro­gram, go to south­west. cafnr.org/events/, or visit ex­ten­sion.mis­souri.edu for more in­for­ma­tion on grow­ing paw­paws.

For more in­for­ma­tion on nu­tri­tion con­tact any of th­ese nu­tri­tion spe­cial­ists in south­west Mis­souri: Dr. Pam Duits­man in Greene County at (417) 881-8909; Lind­sey Gor­don Steven­son in Bar­ton County at (417) 682-3579; Stephanie John­son in How­ell County at (417) 256-2391 or Mary Se­bade in Dal­las County at (417) 345-7551.

The re­gional of­fice of the Fam­ily Nu­tri­tion Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram is lo­cated in Springfield and can be reached at (417) 886-2059. Nu­tri­tion in­for­ma­tion is also avail­able on­line ex­ten­sion.mis­souri.edu.

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