What is a pawpaw? Meet the tropical, North American fruit called the ‘Michigan banana’

DETROIT — It’s called the ‘Michigan banana’ and tastes like a cross between a banana and a mango.

While the Mitten is a powerhouse for things like apples and cherries, it’s also home to a lesser-known but highly coveted fruit among foodies in the know.

Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit tree native to North America. You can eat them right off the tree if they are ripe.

They taste like a typical tropical fruit, with a flavor reminiscent of mangoes, pineapples, bananas and berries. Their texture is creamy and custardlike, similar to that of a banana.

Here is what to know about the pawpaw, which happens to be in season:.

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What are pawpaws?

Pawpaws are a tropical fruit found in North America, typically found in the eastern half of the United States, from Florida to as far north as Michigan and Canada. They are the fruit of the Asimina triloba tree and are typically in season from the end of August through late November, depending on the region.

Michigan just so happens to be one of the states that grow pawpaws, known colloquially as Michigan bananas. The Michigan village of Paw Paw – located about 150 miles southwest of Detroit – is named after the fruit.

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When to pick pawpaws depends on weather patterns and location.

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What do pawpaws taste like? Are they healthy?

Pawpaws look like the result of a mango and an avocado having a baby. They have their own distinctive shape similar to an oval. On the outside, their hue is a mix between yellow and green. Inside, they have a yellowish color and large black seeds.

Often compared to papayas, pawpaws have a different flavor profile: Much less sweet with a little more tang.

If they are kept longer on the tree than they should be, they tend to become very soft.

Pawpaws can be made into things like bread, or they can be pureed into a sauce for a spread and frozen for preservation.

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They are said to have health benefits due to their vitamin and mineral content. Pawpaws are about 80 calories each and are high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron and manganese, according to Healthline.

Where can you find the Michigan banana?

These tropical fruits are not easy to find. Your local Kroger doesn’t stock them.

The problem is that pawpaws are quick to perish. They have to be eaten within days. If they aren’t ripe, you can store them in your refrigerator for two weeks and then let them sit on the counter until they ripen.

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In 2016, the Lansing State Journal spotlighted pawpaw manufacturer Nash Nurseries in Owosso, which sells pawpaw puree to local farmer markets, wholesalers and hobbyists. They suggest adding puree to yogurt, ice cream, beer and bread. According to their website, pawpaws can replace bananas in recipes.

More:See how you can use this tropical fruit instead of meat during your next barbecue cook out.

Nature Hills, an online seller of plants that bills itself as “America’s largest online plant nursery,” has fruit available for purchase online.

Growing pawpaws

Pawpaws are relatively easy to grow from seed. If you manage to find fruit, simply save the seeds and plant them. Trees grow up to 30 feet high in full sun. They tend to stay shrubby if planted in partial shade. And be patient – it can take up to eight years for trees to bear fruit.

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