The persimmon, with its beautiful, 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.
Appalachian folk wisdom has it that persimmon seeds can predict the type of winter to come. When you split the seed down the center and open it up carefully, you expose the small white embryo. If the leaves of the embryo lay on top of each other, it looks like a spoon and legend predicts lots of snow. If the leaves are spread a bit so that the points resemble a fork, then legend predicts a winter with a moderate amount of snow. If the leaves are particularly narrow, resembling a knife, there will be little or no snow that winter.
There are two basic types of persimmons: astringent and non-astringent. As novice persimmon eaters often belatedly discover, the astringent Hachiya persimmon has two personalities. When soft and ripe, it possesses a rich, sweet, spicy flavor that some say is like a blend of mango and papaya. Others find it reminiscent of apple and orange or even pumpkin. The unripened fruit, however, is so astringent 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, though the quantity in a persimmon is much greater. As the fruit ripens and softens, the tannins become inert and the astringency disappears.
Non-astringent Fuyu persimmons can be eaten before they soften, skin and all, without causing the mouth to pucker. They are sweet and crisp when not quite ripe and custardy when ripe.
Types of Persimmon
The two most common persimmon varieties are the Fuyu and the Hachiya. Other, more obscure persimmons may be available locally or in specialty food markets.
Persimmons are well worth trying, not only for their exceptional flavor but also for their vitamin C content. One large persimmon provides nearly 14 percent of the daily vitamin C requirement. Carotenoid pigments in persimmons are notable as well. The vivid color of the fruit is due to alpha carotene, beta carotene, and beta cryptoxanthin, which are present in high amounts.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Persimmons in the National Nutrient Database.
How to Choose the Best Persimmons
Persimmons are susceptible to bruising, so follow these tips to pick the best ones.
How to store persimmons
For good eating, a very firm Fuyu persimmon may need to be put aside for just a day or two. An unripe Hachiya, filled with mouth-puckering tannins, will probably need more time to soften and lose its astringency.
There is some controversy about the best way to ripen persimmons. One way is to put them in a paper bag along with an apple, which will produce ethylene gas and hasten the ripening. Be sure to turn the fruit occasionally so it ripens evenly. For Fuyus, this may take only a couple of days. For Hachiya persimmons the ripening process may take a couple of weeks.
Another way to ripen Hachiya persimmons is to use a modified version of a technique Japanese shippers use. Stand the fruits in a plastic food-storage container, place a few drops of liquor (brandy or rum, for instance) on each of the leaf-like sepals, then cover the container tightly. The fruits will soften considerably as they turn sweeter, so don’t expect to be able to slice them. Hachiyas treated in this manner may ripen in less than a week.
Freezing is also sometimes recommended as an overnight ripening method for Hachiya persimmons. But while the fruit will emerge from the freezer softened, it will not develop the sweetness that only slow ripening can produce.
Ripe persimmons should be placed in a plastic bag, stored in the refrigerator, and used quickly.
You may also freeze the pulpy flesh of Hachiya persimmons in freezer bags, to use for baking and other recipes later.
10 Recipe Ideas for Persimmons
Persimmons are a fall treat that brighten up salads, baked breads or cookies, and even grilled meat or poultry.
Published November 12, 2015