By Dawn M. Swidorski
A persimmon is the edible fruit of a number of species of trees in the ebony wood family. Even though persimmons are associated with Asia, persimmons are also native to the Americas. When the settlers first arrived at Jamestown they were introduced to persimmons!
The shizi, or Japanese persimmon is the most widely cultivated species. This species, was actually native to China, and was later introduced to California and southern Europe in the 1800s and Brazil in the 1890s.
Persimmons are generally light yellow-orange to dark red-orange in color, and depending on the species, vary in size from 0.5 to 4 in in diameter, and may be spherical, acorn, or pumpkin-shaped. The calyx often remains attached to the fruit after harvesting, but becomes easier to remove as it ripens.
There are two types of persimmon fruit: astringent and non-astringent.
Astringent persimmons contain very high levels of soluble tannins and are bitter and unpalatable if eaten before softening.
The astringency of tannins is removed through ripening by exposure to light over several days, wrapping the fruit in paper, or placing it in proximity to bananas or apples. These astringent persimmons can also be prepared for commercial purposes by drying. The heart-shaped Hachiya is the most common variety of astringent persimmon. This type of persimmon makes up approximately 90 percent of the available fruit. This persimmon is tart until it becomes soft ripe.
The non-astringent persimmon is squat like a tomato. Non-astringent persimmons are not actually free of tannins, but are far less astringent before ripening, and lose tannins sooner.
Non-astringent persimmons may be eaten when still firm, and remain edible when very soft. The most common variety of non-astringent persimmon is the fuyu. This persimmon is gaining popularity in the U.S. This variety is smaller, sweeter, and is edible while still firm.
Although there are countless different varieties of persimmons, only two are widely available commercially. Some of the others listed here may be found at farmer’s or specialty markets.
- The American Persimmon is native to the eastern United States and is higher in nutrients like vitamin C and calcium than Asian varieties. Its fruit is traditionally eaten in a special steamed pudding and is inedible until ripe.
- The Black Persimmon or Black Sapote is native to Mexico. Its fruit has green skin and white flesh, which turns black when ripe.
- The Mabolo or Velvet-apple is cultivated in the Philippines. It is bright red when ripe.
Persimmons are an excellent source of vitamin A, a good source of vitamin C, iron and rich in fiber.
Persimmons are eaten fresh, dried, raw, or cooked. When eaten fresh, the skin is usually peeled off and the fruit is often cut into quarters or eaten whole like an apple.
To eat a very ripe persimmons, which can have the texture of pudding, remove the top with a paring knife and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
Persimmons can be used in cookies, cakes, puddings, salads, curries and as a topping for breakfast cereal.
Persimmon pudding is a dessert using fresh persimmons. Persimmon pudding is a baked pudding that has the consistency of pumpkin pie.
Availability, Selection, Storage, Preparation
Persimmons are widely available September through December, with a peak during November.
Choose persimmons with deep red undertones. Look for persimmons that are round, plump, and have glossy and smooth skin. Avoid fruits with blemishes, bruises or cracked skin and missing the green leaves at the top. Select ripe persimmons only if you plan to eat them immediately. Otherwise, buy firmer fruits and allow them to ripen.
Ripen persimmons at room temperature in a paper bag with an apple or banana. Store them in the refrigerator when ripe. Be sure to eat the fruit as soon as possible because overripe persimmons quickly turn to a mushy texture.
Ripe Fuyu persimmons, which look kind of like flattened tomatoes, will be crisp, while the acorn-shaped Hachiyas will be very soft and juicy.
Firm-ripe Persimmons stored in a cool, dark place, will keep for from two to four months.
They are edible and delicious in their crisp firm state. However, they will have their best flavor if allowed to rest and soften slightly after harvest.
The edible skins tend to be tough. Remove the skins with a potato peeler or sharp thin knife. Or, blanch fruit in boiling water 2 to 3 minutes then dip them in cold water, as you would to peel a tomato. Slip off the skins when the fruit is cool enough to touch. Leave the skins intact if you intend to bake the entire fruit. Eventually, firm-ripe persimmons will become soft like the soft-ripe persimmons and are useable in any recipe calling for Persimmon pulp.