Though the pawpaw is generally unknown to the American public, it is the largest edible fruit native to the US. The fruit is indigenous to 26 states from northern Florida to Maine and west to Nebraska. Fossil records indicate that the papaw’s forebears established themselves in North America millions of years before the arrival of humans. American Indians extensively used the pawpaw and introduced it to European explorers. As a much loved fruit, European settlers named towns, creeks, and islands after the pawpaw. Today, pawpaws are primarily eaten in very rural areas, and most Americans only know of the fruit from the traditional folk song, “Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch.”
The pawpaw plant is found most commonly near riverbanks and in the understory of the rich eastern US forests. The Pawpaw has a creamy, custard-like flesh with a tropical flavor, which is often described as a combination of mango, pineapple, and banana. More than 50 commercial nurseries market pawpaw seeds or trees in the US. The pawpaw Foundation at Kentucky State University is actively working to revive the fruit by promoting scientific research in the areas of pawpaw breeding, growing, managing, harvesting, and use.
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