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Persimmon

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

The persimmon, with its beautiful, brilliant orange-red glossy skin, arrives in markets just as summer is ending. Nevertheless, it hasn't become as popular in the United States as it has in Japan, where the fruit is widely cultivated and as eagerly consumed as oranges are in the West. Though there are native persimmon trees in the United States, the varieties that Americans eat were brought here from Japan in the late 19th century (and are now grown mainly in California). Persimmons are well worth trying not only for their exceptional flavor but also for their beta-carotene; they also have some vitamin C and potassium.

There are two types of persimmons: astringent and nonastringent. As novice persimmon eaters often belatedly discover, the astringent persimmon has two personalities. When ripe, it possesses a rich, sweet, spicy flavor. The unripened fruit, however, tastes so bitter that biting into it causes the mouth to pucker. The astringency is due to the presence of tannins, a group of chemicals that occur in tea, red wine, and in a few other fruits, such as peaches and dates, before they ripen--though the quantity in a persimmon is much greater. As the fruit ripens and softens, the tannins become inert and the astringency disappears.

Varieties

Of the hundreds of varieties cultivated in the United States, there are only two of commercial importance.

Hachiya: Hachiya, which makes up about 90% of the commercial crop, is an acorn-shaped persimmon that is astringent until it's soft-ripe.

Fuyu: Fuyu, which is popular in Japan and becoming increasingly available in the United States, is a smaller, flatter, nonastringent variety that can be eaten while still firm. It has the same bright orange color as the hachiya, but it is squatter and rounder, and does not have the hachiya's distinctive acorn point on the blossom end.

Availability

Persimmons are available in September and peak during November and December. Some markets also carry dried persimmons year round.

Shopping

Persimmons are usually tucked into individual egg "nests," rather like egg cartons, for shipping and store display; the fruits are very susceptible to bruising and won't survive careless handling. Persimmons reach their full color while still hard, and they are harvested and shipped in this hard, pre-ripe state. Look for deeply colored fruits, which should be reddish rather than yellowish. Choose persimmons that are glossy, well-rounded, and free of cracks or bruises, with their leaflike sepals still green and firmly attached.

Though persimmons are shipped unripe, your grocer may have some ripe ones to offer. Buy ripe fruits, if you can find them, to eat immediately, and plan to ripen firmer ones at home for later use. Ripe Hachiya persimmons should be completely soft--their thin skins virtually bursting with jellylike, juicy flesh. (In this state of ripeness, they have been compared to water balloons.) Fuyu persimmons, by contrast, are crisp.

Storage

For good eating, a very firm Fuyu persimmon may need to be put aside for just a day or two. An unripe Hachiya, packed with mouth-puckering tannins, will probably need more time to soften and lose its astringency. There is still some controversy as to the best way to ripen these fruits. You can leave persimmons at room temperature in a paper bag along with an apple, which will produce additional ethylene gas (to hasten the ripening), and turn the fruit occasionally for even ripening. For Hachiya persimmons, however, the process may take a number of weeks.

Another approach for Hachiya persimmons--a modified version of a technique Japanese shippers use--incorporates two ripening principles: When the oxygen supply is diminished, it causes the persimmons to produce aldehydes (which counteract the astringency of the tannins). And, when persimmons are exposed to alcohol, it encourages the fruits to produce their own ethylene gas. The kitchen adaptation of this technique is quite simple: Stand the fruits in a plastic food-storage container, place a few drops of liquor (brandy or rum, for instance) on each of the leaflike sepals, then cover the container tightly. Fruit treated in this manner may ripen in less than a week. (Note: As the fruits lose their astringency, they will also soften considerably, so don't expect to be able to slice them.)

Freezing is sometimes recommended as an overnight ripening method for persimmons, but this method merely softens the fruit and does not diminish the astringency of an unripe Hachiya persimmon.

Ripe persimmons should be placed in a plastic bag, stored in the refrigerator, and used quickly.

If you'd like to cook with persimmons year round, pack the pureed fruit (mixed with a little lemon juice) into small containers and freeze for up to six months.

Preparation

You can wash a Fuyu persimmon and eat it like an apple, either whole or cut into slices or wedges. They are easy to peel with a paring knife. Pull off the sepals before serving, or cut off the stem end with a cone-shaped "core" of flesh. The thicker-skinned Hachiya can be messy to bite into, and is easier to handle if halved lengthwise and eaten from the skin with a spoon. Some Hachiya persimmons contain a few seeds, which are easily removed.

To scoop out Hachiya persimmons for mashing or pureeing, halve the fruit and scoop out the pulp with a spoon, discarding the stem, skin, and seeds, if any.

Nutrition Chart

Fresh Persimmon/1 large

118
Total fat (g)
0.3
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
6.1
1
Carbohydrate (g)
31
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2
Beta-carotene (mg)
2.2
Manganese (mg)
0.6


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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