All About Persimmon: Gather and Enjoy Your Own Divine Fruit

Discover what this uniquely sweet fruit has to offer your autumn garden.

  • persimmon-tree
    American and Asian persimmons are no different in flavor, but there are differences in size, the sensitivity of the fruit, and cultural practices associated with it.
    Photo by Getty Images/LuCaAr

  • persimmon-tree

The persimmon is an ancient and venerable fruit whose scientific name, Diospyros, is loosely translated to “food of the gods.” Indeed, few fruits are sweeter to eat when ripe — or more dreadful to eat when unripe. The persimmon can be a pleasing yellow or orange-red color and still taste bitter and astringent. For its medicinal properties, these qualities may be valuable (with special consideration to the tannins found in persimmon skin). In culinary uses, however, it’s anything but! So it’s important to remember that until the entire persimmon has softened to a jelly-like texture, it’s not ripe — no matter the fruit’s deceivingly appealing exterior. Once soft, however, it becomes as sweet as honey with a luscious gum-droppy quality and the subtlest hint of apricot flavor, as divine-tasting as its name indicates.

Persimmon harvest season is late in the year, during November and December. There are both Asian and American species of Diospyros, the main difference between them being the durability of the fruit during transport. The Asian persimmon cultivars surpass the American cultivars on this point, and thus are more widely available in commerce.

Natural Candy With Asian Persimmon

Diospyros kaki, the Asian persimmon, has been in commercial cultivation for thousands of years. It originated in China and eventually spread to Japan, Korea, and throughout all of Southeast Asia. Marco Polo encountered it during his travels in the 13th century. Six hundred years later, Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the U.S. Navy introduced it to America from Japan. The large, long-lived trees can produce an average of 400 pounds of fruit per tree. There are more than 2,000 cultivars. Asian cultivars are usually self-fruitful. The plants are male and female, but they can also produce bisexual flowers, therefore pollination generally isn’t a problem.

In Japan, prior to the introduction of cane sugar, persimmons were used as a food sweetener. Referred to in Japan as hoshigaki, dried persimmons are enjoyed as a dessert fruit. It’s said that drying removes the bitter taste and that the cultivar ‘Hachiya’ is the best one to dry. To produce hoshigaki, the fruit needs to be picked from the tree while still firm, peeled, and allowed to sun-dry for several weeks (pictured right). Some skin is left at the top and at the bottom of the fruit. During the drying process, the fruits are lightly “massaged” weekly to encourage the inner juices to seep out and dry, resulting in a fine sugar dust on the surface.

Asian persimmons tend to cling to the tree even after they are ripe, and so they must be picked individually. A ripe persimmon is so soft that it cannot be picked or tossed into baskets without causing damage to the fruit. The fruits are therefore picked slightly “green,” as in unripe. A persimmon picked while green in color will probably never ripen. In most cultivars, the fruit is ready to be picked when it's bright-orange, although some cultivars have yellow fruits. It’s still not ripe, but at least it’s no longer green! You pick it while still firm, and then you wait.

There are many tricks to get a persimmon to ripen off the tree. Time seems to always work, unless the fruit was picked too early. To speed up the process, the Japanese historically stored the fruit in sake casks, where the alcoholic vapors encouraged swifter ripening.
A more modern technique is to spray the fruit with whiskey and store it in plastic bags for several weeks. You can also try storing persimmons in paper bags with an overly ripe apple (the ethylene gas method).



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