Paw Paw (Papaya)
  • Melon shaped.
  • Thin smooth green/yellow skin.
  • 1-2kg in weight.
  • Flesh is golden yellow and in some varieties an orange/red.
  • Smooth texture with a distinct flavour and aroma.
  • Many small black seeds in the hollow centre.

Botanically classed as a large berry, the papaw belongs to the Caricaeae family and is a tropical, palm-like plant. Common names for the fruit include papaya and tree melon, depending on the country in which it is grown.

Choose fruit which is sweet smelling, unbruised and free from other signs of deterioration such as black spots. However, at times during the year, the pawpaw may have markings resembling freckles on the skin. These marks have been nicknamed Winter Freckle, and fortunately do not affect the flesh at all.

Consumer Tip: Select fruit that is well-shaped, mainly yellow, smooth, unbruised, unbroken, and free from other signs of deterioration. Fruit should be at least half yellow in colour when purchased.

Paw paws can be used in a variety of ways. Eat fresh as a breakfast fruit combined with passionfruit or with other fruits in the form of a fruit salad. As a main course, papaw often accompanies veal, chicken or seafood. Green papaw can be baked and served as a vegetable, or filled with a savoury meat sauce. Paw paw puree can be used in cakes, scones and fruit flans. Preserve in delicious relishes and chutneys. Use in combination with savoury ingredients such as celery, ginger, chicken, shallots etc, in salads.

Paw paws can be easily sliced into a variety of attractive serving shapes. Unlike many other soft-fleshed fruits, paw paw can be cut and prepared ahead of serving time – it does not darken or discolour when exposed to air. Try the following:

Paw paw Wedge:
Slice the paw paw half into wedges and attractively reassemble the pieces into a fan or circle to garnish a salad.

Paw paw Half:
This simple end-to-end cut provides two half shells that can be served simply with a squeeze of lime or lemon or filled with a scoop of ice cream, cottage cheese, a fruit medley or chicken salad.

Paw paw Ring:
Cut the smaller stem end off the paw paw and scoop out seeds. Pack a salad filling firmly into paw paw shell, chill thoroughly and slice into rings.

Paw paw Basket:
Create a fruit basket by slicing from each end one quarter of the way to the centre and out, leaving a “handle”. To serve remove the seeds and fill the basket with fresh fruit.

Paw paw trees are propagated by seed. Due to the number of seeds contained in each fruit, propagation is relatively inexpensive. The trees will grow 2 – 10 metres high, however, they are seldom allowed to grow too tall, as the trunk may break. Height also hinders harvesting, and fruit size diminishes as the tree grows taller.

The leaves of the paw paw tree are large, palmate leaves, which are usually seven-lobed. The leaves are very fragile and are easily damaged by hail and wind, as is the ripening fruit.

There are three types of paw paw flowers – male, female and hermaphrodite. Each plant only produces one type of flower, resulting in two groupings of the plant – monosexual and bisexual. The true male flowers should produce pollen only, but during the cooler months may produce bisexual flowers resulting in fruit. Plants have been known to change sex during their lifetime.

The paw paw grows and matures quickly, with the first fruit appearing 12 – 18 months after planting. The plant does not produce great numbers of fruit for more than 3 – 4 years of its life.

The paw paw is susceptible to low temperatures. Light frosts and cold winds will injure the plant. Young plants are particularly vulnerable to these adverse conditions.

Paw paw originated in the tropics and subtropics of America and was discovered about four hundred years ago. It is thought that the Portuguese were the first to transport the fruit from America, and from there its cultivation spread to the East Indies and Europe. Surprisingly, it is only in the last century that papaw reached China, Japan and the Pacific Islands.

Paw paw is now grown commercially in many tropical and subtropical regions, including Australia, Malaysia, the West Indies, Hawaii, California, Central and South America and Florida.

Commercially, the paw paw tree does have some significance apart from its fruit. The milky juice from the stem and leaves contains an enzyme, papaine, that is usually dried and used in chewing gum, medicine (to aid digestion), toothpaste and as a meat tenderiser.

Interesting Facts and Myths?

The paw-paw (or papaya) tree can grow from seed to a 6 metre, fruit bearing tree in less than 18 months. The fruit can range in size from half a kilogram to 10 kilograms.

People get very confused about the difference between the papaya and the paw-paw. No need. They are different names for the same fruit.

The white powder sold as “Meat Tenderizer” is composed mainly of an enzyme called papain extracted from the paw-paw or papaya, usually with added salt, sugar and anti-caking agents. The enzyme papain breaks down tough meat fibres. Papaya juice has been used for centuries in South America to tenderize meat.

Botanical Name: Asimina triloba

Alternative Names: Pawpaw

Health Benefits

Paw paws are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, a good source of dietary fibre, potassium and contain some vitamin B1. Papaw is low in kilojoules with 165kJ/100g.

100g of paw paw yields the following:

  • Calories – 39
  • Total Carbs – 3% of DV
  • Protein – 0.61g
  • Dietary Fibre – 7% of DV
  • Vitamin A – 22% of DV
  • Vitamin C – 103% of DV
  • Calcium – 2% of DV
  • Iron – 1% of DV

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Selecting tips

Paw Paws are delicate fruit requiring very careful handling in order to minimise bruising. Bruised or damaged papaws are highly susceptible to postharvest rots which can rapidly spread to other fruit.

Paw Paws, being a tropical crop, are susceptible to chilling injury below 13°C. A relative humidity range of 85 to 90% is desirable for storage. Higher humidity creates fungal rot problems and lower humidity causes excessive drying out of the Paw Paws.

Controlled Ripening: Paw Paws can be ripened quickly by the use of ethylene and high temperatures. Ethylene at a concentration of 200ul/l at 30 – 32°C for 2 – 3 days will hasten ripening. The period of treatment and stage of maturity at harvest will determine the ripeness achieved. The process of rapid fruit ripening reduces the possibility of various fruit rots as they are not allowed the time to develop.

Consumer Storage: Ripen at room temperature and store in the refrigerator crisper for a short time.

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