Hoshigaki, or dried persimmon, is a delicacy in Japanese food culture. Painstakingly made, the fruit is hand massaged as it dries to tease out the sugar. You’ll often find this dried Japanese persimmon served with a cup of green tea—but it’s best savored alone.
What Is Hoshigaki?
Tender and gummy, hoshigaki is a special type of dried persimmon prized for its rich, caramelized sweetness. Although it’s a delicacy today (and a pricey one at that), hoshigaki is a traditional food with practical origins.
Records show that people first made hoshigaki during the Heian period. One of the oldest types of dried fruit in Japan, it was useful because it did not spoil throughout the winter. Hoshigaki also put certain types of persimmons to use before they would ordinarily be ready to eat, thus lengthening the harvest period.
What Kind of Japanese Persimmon Should You Use?
The Japanese use bitter persimmons such as Hachiyas. Normally, you must wait until Hachiyas are extremely ripe—almost the texture of pudding—before consuming them, or they’re simply too bitter to enjoy.
The hoshigaki process, however, brings out the sugar in this fruit, and astringent persimmons usually contain even more sugar than ones that are sweet when fresh. It’s said that dried persimmon (even when made with Hachiyas) is one-and-a-half times sweeter than sugar and contains four times more saccharine than sweet persimmons.
Although you can use sweet Japanese persimmon like Fuyu persimmons if you dry them quickly, you’ll find that they tend to attract bugs and are quicker to develop mold during the drying process. Plus, the point of hoshigaki is to enhance persimmons that are somewhat less alluring when fresh.
Why Does Drying Remove Bitterness?
In layman’s terms, tannins are what make astringent persimmons bitter. Tannins are water-soluble, which is why you taste bitterness when you bite into a fresh Hachiya persimmon. After drying, however, the tannins become insoluble—meaning you don’t taste the bitterness. Furthermore, drying persimmons in this manner draws out the moisture and concentrates each fruit’s sugar content onto the skin.
How Do You Make Hoshigaki?
So how do you make this delicious dried persimmon? The first step is to select the fruit. Pick astringent Japanese persimmon such as Hachiyas that have at least an inch of stem, because you’ll need that to hang the fruit when preparing. No need to worry about black marks on the skin of the fruit; this results from sunburn but does not affect the end product in this case.
Then you need to wash and dry the persimmons. To be extra careful, you can sanitize them with a spray of Shochu liquor. The persimmons are then skinned as close as possible to the stem, with sepals trimmed, and hung by strings to dry.
Racks with rows of dangling orange globes are a common sight in many Japanese households in the fall. Traditionally, the persimmons hang on two ends of the same piece of string, draped over a piece of bamboo.
Leave the fruit alone for the first week or so, until it develops a toughened skin. That’s when the real work begins. To develop the structure of the fruit and ensure that the sugars crystallize on the skin, the persimmons must be regularly massaged by hand. This can happen once every few days, or even every other day in order to make the best hoshigaki.
If using thin persimmons, you should slice them thinly, into roughly 0.2-inch segments. The greater the surface-area-to-inside ratio, the quicker they’ll dry, avoiding the problems that plague sweet-persimmon hoshigaki.
For these, sanitize by quickly soaking in boiling water. Then, place them on top of a zaru (bamboo basket) or cookie rack and leave them in a dry spot with direct sunshine. They should be ready in around 5-7 days.
What Is the White Powder?
It’s not mold! Despite appearances, the white powder that forms on hoshigaki is actually good. These small crystals are the sugar that came out of the fruit. This powdery coating is how you know the dried persimmon is near completion. If you don’t see the telltale white coating on your hoshigaki, place it in a plastic bag to let it rest for a few days.
How Should You Store Dried Persimmon?
Autumn is the best season to make dried Japanese persimmon, usually in October or November (or when the temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit). If it’s too warm or humid, the fruit will mold. Even when totally dried, hoshigaki does not store well, so proper storage is crucial to preserving the fruits of your labor.
Vacuum sealing is a great option. Alternatively, you can wrap the hoshigaki individually with plastic wrap, place in a zip lock bag together, and store in the refrigerator, where they’ll last for a month or so.
Note that the smell tends to transfer to other food in the fridge, so it’s best to keep them in the freezer if possible. The freezer will preserve dried persimmon for closer to two months; just move them to the fridge two or three days before you would like to eat them. (This process can also help catalyze the appearance of the white powder.)
All in all, the process can take weeks or even months. But in the end, it’s certainly worth it.