Papaw is a tender, pulpy fruit under consideration for a possible alternative crop for Kentucky’s tobacco growers. Kentucky now has three commercial orchards that have planted Papaw but only one is mature enough to produce fruit.
The papaw – which is, sometimes spelled “pawpaw” – tree grows wild in the nation’s eastern half and bears a green fruit, normally three inches to six inches long and weighing about a pound. It has a tropical taste as a combination of banana, mango and pineapple. Some varieties have a hint of melon or citrus taste and the fruit is higher in some vitamins, minerals and amino acids than apples, grapes and peaches. The fruit of the papaw tree has vast potential. It can be eaten raw or used in baked goods, ice cream, yogurts, juices, jams and many other foods. As far as consumer’s opinion goes at this time, papaw is in the infancy stage. The fruit was once a part of American Indians’ diet long before white settlers arrived.
Some are of the opinion papaw will become a standard part of our American diet. We even have here in America now, a PawPaw Foundation. Growers of the Papaw tree dream of someday supplying more than a niche market but they also face some problems. Right now, there are not enough growers to produce the volume necessary for big outlets to sell it to the consumers. Wal-Mart and Ocean Spray have both expressed an interest in selling Papaw to their consumers if they were sure of an ample supply.
Another difficulty Papaw producer’s face is the short shelf life of the fruit. They only last about two or three days at the most, making it difficult to get the fruit to the markets while it is still nice and fresh. If refrigerated, Papaw will keep up to three weeks; however, so researchers are now trying to develop varieties that last longer to over come the transport problem.
Papaw could easily join vegetables, berries and grapes as an alternative for tobacco farmers struggling with steep production cuts as the federal government shrinks quotas. Orchards could spring up on small plots once used to grow tobacco, but farmers are not encouraged to expect the same financial returns. Papaw would have to be one of many crops to help alleviate the problem.
A restaurant in Kentucky that has begun serving Papaw claim the response has been great from a flavor standpoint. Many customers are inquiring as to where they can find the fruit for purchase.
Kentucky State University and the PawPaw Foundation are now trying to attract more growers to expand the market of the fruit. They are sponsoring an international papaw conference this September in Frankfort. The conference will focus on distribution and marketing of the fruit. So, keep your eyes open – there may be a “new” fruit on the market soon if the Papaw growers can get a productive market going for it.