A Revered Food
Native Algonquins introduced persimmons to Jamestown settlers to sustain them through the harsh winters. In Japan, persimmons are a remedy for hangovers. The botanical name, Diospyros comes from a Greek word that means "food from the gods".
Most of the persimmons we get today are from Brazil, China, Japan and Korea. The are available from late September through January. They peak around Thanksgiving time. Brightly colored with a glossy, deep orange-red skin, persimmons are classified as astringent or non-astringent.
Varieties of Persimmons
Astringent varieties are distinguished by a plump acorn-like shape that tapers to a point. They have a high tannin content, making them tart and bitter when not ripe. At their peak, however, the tannins disappear and astringent persimmons become soft, almost mushy to the touch. What's left is a sweet custard-like pulp that you can eat with a spoon and that tastes similar to apricots or plums.
The astringent variety you see the most is the Japanese Hachiya, chock full of vitamins A and C, the mineral manganese and a shopping six grams of fiber (nearly twice what's in an apple). The dark orange-colored pulp is testament to its bounty of beta-carotene, though the amount varies by variety.
Nonastringent varieties are shaped like round, squashed tomatoes, smaller than acorn-shaped persimmons, but with the same sweet taste. The texture, however, is crisp and crunchy, like that of apples, which gets a big softer as it ripens, similar to pears.
The Foyu variety dominates the nonastringent market. Not as much is known about its nutritional value, though it reportedly contains much less vitamin C than Hachiya, but more potassium. Vitamin A presumably is still high.
Little research has been conducted on this fruit but its high fiber and antioxidant content suggests it may be cardioprotective. One Israeli study found that rats eating a high-fat diet had better lipid profiles (higher HDLs, lower LDLs and triglycerides) when given dried persimmons than when not.
Choosing and Storing Persimmons
Choose deep-orange fruits with no green and no breaks in the skin. Store persimmons at room temperature for a week or more until soft. To speed ripening, place in a paper bag with a banana or apple.
Hachiya persimmons can be used as a puree in baked goods, puddings, and sauces. Unlike Hachiya, nonastringent persimmons like Fuyu can be eaten the same day you buy them. Eat as you would an apple or pear; no need to peel. They also work well in salads, cobblers and stir-fries. And they are particularly delicious with just a squeeze of lime.
The fruit pairs well with other fall/winter foods like dried fruits, nuts, oranges and strong spices like ginger and cinnamon, as well as bourbon, rum or brandy. To enjoy persimmons year-long, freeze the pulp. And for an easy persimmon "sorbet", simply freeze the whole fruit, peel back the skin and spoon out the flesh.
One medium Hachiya persimmon (DV - daily value):
- Calories: 118
- Fiber: 6 grams (24 percent DV)
- Vitamin A: 2,733 milligrams (55 percent DV)
- Vitamin C: 13 milligrams (22 percent DV)
- Copper: 0.2 milligrams (30 percent DV)
- Manganese: 0.6 milligrams (30 percent DV)
- Potassium: 270 milligrams (8 percent DV)
Persimmon and Apple Salad Recipe Card
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