While technically a berry, persimmons are widely popular in many parts of the world and especially in Japan, where it is the national fruit. Originating in China but also existing in Japan for thousands of years, the small fruits only came to the United States in the late 1800s. Now, people enjoy them to make a wide variety of dishes, as well as to eat them fresh.
Persimmons in Japan
In Japan, the persimmon is called kaki. As well as being the national fruit of Japan, persimmons are also a symbol of autumn in much the same way pumpkins are in the United States. This isn’t just because the fruit’s skin exhibits a bright orange color; it’s also because kaki is harvested in the fall.
In Japan, the fruits play a more significant role than just an autumn harvest. They appear in popular haikus, and people use the leaves and the trees on which they grow for many applications, from tea to lumber to sushi to medicinal purposes.
Additionally, hoshigaki, which are dried persimmons, are associated with longevity and good luck. Many household hang a string of hoshigaki from autumn through New Year’s Eve, as they are a traditional home decoration during the wintertime.
How Does It Taste?
When ripe, persimmon is soft and you can eat it raw. The flavor bears some similarity to an apricot; the flesh inside has a texture similar to a ripe tomato. Today, there are actually over 1,000 varieties of them, but they can be divided into three main groups, each with distinctive flavors.
Best eaten just before they ripen, these persimmons are sweet. It is said that amagaki is actually a mutation, as persimmons were originally all rather astringent to taste. The astringent persimmons are called shibugaki.
These tannic persimmons don’t taste very good until you remove the astringency either by drying or with alcohol.
These are dried persimmons, made from shibugaki. There is a long and laborious process involved in drying persimmons, but the result is a sweeter persimmon that lasts much longer than a fresh persimmon. Hoshigaki often makes a delightful winter food in Japan.
Culinary Applications for Persimmons
Aside from eating persimmons raw or dried, there are several ways you can use them in various dishes as well. Try adding fresh slices of persimmons to salads or as a topping for cereal and yogurt. You can scoop the flesh of astringent persimmon, when very ripe and soft, right out of the skin with a spoon. You can also purée them for dessert spreads and pie fillings.
The fruit can also work great in cakes, cookies, confectionery, bread, parfaits, pudding, pancakes, smoothies, and curries. You can also cut hoshigaki into small pieces and add to trail mix, granola, baked goods, and more.
Drizzle halved or sliced persimmons with honey and roast them in the oven or broil them and serve with baked Brie! There are many other possibilities; search the Internet for recipes featuring the fruits, and you will find plenty!
Like other fruits, persimmons contain a high amount of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Both of these vitamins provide a number of health benefits but are especially beneficial for the skin.
They are also high in other essential minerals and nutrients. Those include iron, manganese, potassium, copper, Vitamins E and K, thiamin, folate, and beta-carotene. They are an excellent source of dietary fiber and antioxidants that help reduce the risk of various cancers and improve the immune system.
The antioxidants and flavonoids also help to fight off other chronic diseases. They reduce the risk of heart disease and age-related mental diseases. Persimmons are also high in anti-inflammatory compounds.
Persimmons are low in calories, making them an excellent food for when you are dieting. Mixing them into a smoothie creates a refreshing and healthy drink!
How to Get Your Persimmons Ripe
When you purchase persimmons in the store, they may not be ripe and ready to eat yet. To speed up the softening process, allow them to sit at room temperature in natural light. Depending on the kinds, it could be a manner of days to several weeks before the ripening process is complete.
To speed things up, you can place the persimmons in a paper bag along with other pieces of fruit such as apples, bananas, or pears. These fruits give off ethylene gas as they ripen, which helps the persimmons to ripen more quickly as well. Once ripe, persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator and should be eaten or used within three days.
The most common variety of Japanese persimmon you may find in the United States is the Fuyu persimmon, though other types may be available in Asian supermarkets. The Fuyu is a sweet persimmon, so there is no need to wait for it to be very soft before eating it. American varieties include the Prok and Yates persimmons. Both of these are astringent.