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The term “pawpaw salad” can be confusing for people looking to explore different salad options outside the realm of dull iceberg lettuce. The word “pawpaw,” also written "paw paw," is used to describe two very different plants: Asimina triloba and Carica papaya. Though unrelated, both plants can be used in a salad mixture yielding very different results.
Carica papaya, also called the papaya, is a tree native to the tropical parts of North America. The fruit of the papaya tree is oblong and oval in shape with an orange, pink or yellow-orange color with pulpy innards. Asimina triloba is also called the common pawpaw. Indigenous to the eastern parts of North America and Canada, the fruit of the tree is similar in appearance to Carica papaya but has a creamy inner texture with a taste reminiscent of bananas.
Carica papaya is the fruit most often used in salads due to popularity and availability; there are more people growing pawpaws of this variety than the common pawpaw tree. Tradition also plays a part: the Carica-style pawpaw is traditionally used in Asian cuisine, where it routinely shows up as a part of salad mixtures and recipes. Pawpaw salad often refers to a traditional Asian dish where not-yet-ripe papaya fruit is mixed with greens and sometimes meat.
The Asimina pawpaws aren't excluded from pawpaw salad recipes, but these are less common. The fruit from the Asimina tree spoils quickly and is rarely cultivated and fruits are typically picked from wild trees. Because of the creamy nature of the pawpaw fruit, it is usually mixed with other fruits to create a fruit salad-style dessert rather than a leafy green salad.
Traditional pawpaw salad recipes vary based on their place of origin. Vietnamese papaya salad is topped with shrimp or prawns. Laotian pawpaw salad makes use of spiced pork. Different greens are added to enhance the flavor and texture of the fruit and meat. Rocket greens, spinach, alfalfa spouts and various leafy herbs all make appearances in this type of salad.
Fruit salad recipes using pawpaw fruits vary in consistency and taste depending on the type of pawpaw used. Fruit salads using Asimina pawpaw are creamier and richer, often resembling a custard or pudding. Carica pawpaw lends itself to dicing and cubing, and fruit salad recipes using this type of pawpaw are often bowls of mixed fruit.
Vegetarian options usually include soy- or tofu-based meat substitutes to keep the original taste and texture provided by meats in these recipes. Some people experience an adverse reaction to pawpaw fruit of either variety. If a person suspects he is having an allergic reaction to the ingredients in pawpaw salad, he should seek professional medical treatment immediately.