Are Pawpaws Safe

Due to its potential for allergic reaction causing contact dermatitis and possible presence of pesticides, pawpaw consumption may be harmful to humans. Click to visit Wikipedia Article

Because of that statement, a question has arisen about the safety of eating pawpaws. According to the FDA,

The pawpaw has a long history of food use and the FDA does not currently have any evidence that pawpaw is unsafe to eat.

Dr. Kirk Pomper, Kentucky State University

Food Allergies

Indeed, some people are allergic to pawpaw. This is not exceptional, however. Food allergies are many, the most common being milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. Among fruits the common ones are apple, peach and kiwi fruit. Less common are apricot, banana, cherry, coconut, date, fig, grape, lychee, mango, melon, orange, peach, pear, persimmon, pineapple, pomegranate, prune, strawberry, and tomato.

This list puts pawpaw allergy in perspective. Pawpaws are not unusual; and the same caution should be exercised in eating them as in eating other fruits.

The statement that pesticides are present in pawpaw is peculiar. Pesticides are not being sprayed on the fruit ― never in the wild, and almost never in cultivation. This claim seems to be a poorly chosen wording, based on the fact, that pawpaw ― and other plants in the Annona family ― contain acetogenins, a class of potent compounds that have insecticidal properties.

Because of acetogenin’s potent bioactive properties, they are being investigated for their anti-cancer potential. Other research is investigating the neurotoxicity, using rat subjected to intravenous injection of purified acetogenins. The toxicity is expressed at higher doses than humans would ingest. The practical implication is unknown since realistic studies in which the pawpaw fruit is ingested have not been done. What is the absorption in the stomach and intestine? How much of the compound is detoxified by the liver? How quickly is it excreted?

Common Plant Foods with Toxic Compounds

We should not be surprised that plants contain toxic compounds. They are the plant’s defense against predation by insects, fungi and animals. The food plants eaten around the world are full of bioactive compounds. A short list of the notable toxic compounds and their plant are these:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors – in potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant.
  • Protease inhibitors – in raw soybeans
  • Amylase inhibitors – in wheat flour
  • Tannins – in tea, coffee, and cocoa
  • Cyanogenic glycosides – in cassava
  • Glucosinolates – in cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc
  • Lectin proteins – in red kidney beans
  • Lathyrogens – in chick peas and vetch
  • Convicine and vicine – in fava beans

Moderation in eating pawpaw is the sensible approach. Consumption of fresh fruits in season is normal; it is how humans have consumed them throughout the ages, and can do no harm. Daily consumption throughout the year, particularly of a tea brewed from the leaves, is probably unwise. Dried pawpaw leather, although delicious, is know to cause nausea and vomiting. Finally, and most importantly, do not inject pawpaw fruit directly into your veins.

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