Puckering up for Persimmons

Persimmons are the edible fruit of a number of species of trees in the genus Diospyros in the family Ebenaceae. (In Greek, diospyros means “food of the gods.”)

The Diospyros kaki tree is native to Japan, China, Burma and the Himalayas and Khasi Hills of northern India. In China, it grows wild at altitudes up to 6,000-8,000 ft (1,830-2,500 m) and it is cultivated from Manchuria southward to Kwangtung.

Early in the 14th Century, Marco Polo recorded the Chinese trade in persimmons. They were introduced to Japan at an early date and have become the national fruit and one of the traditional foods for the Japanese New Year. Korea has long-established ceremonies that feature persimmons. Growing persimmons in India began in the Nilgiris. They have been grown for a long time in North Vietnam, in the mountains of Indonesia above 3,500 ft (1,000 m) and in the Philippines.

Wild persimmons vary in quality from tree to tree. Hernando de Soto and his conquistadors found the Native Americans eating bread made from what they called “prunes.” The loaves were formed from dried persimmons.

The persimmon native to North America is Diospyros virginiana, which the Algonquin Indians called putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, depending on the dialect of the tribe. This persimmon was small, seedy and had an unpleasant taste when eaten before it was ripe. This astringent quality is caused by tannin present in the fruit when it is not completely ripe. Diospyros virginiana was quite different from the persimmons we see in the markets today. It was the size of a grape and had to be left on the tree into the winter.

The early settlers of North America found persimmons inedible until the Native Americans told them the fruit would not be ready to eat until the first frost. The settlers assumed this meant the frost was necessary to improve the taste, but the natives meant the fruit should be left on the tree well into October when it was ripe enough to eat.

Captain John Smith is quoted as saying, “If it be not ripe it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment; but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an Apricock.” The settlers of Jamestown described persimmons as “very sweet and pleasant to the taste, and yields on distillation, after fermentation, a quality of spirits.”

The Pilgrims were known to make beer by fermenting a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar, and pumpkin.

After Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan to the West in 1855, he returned to the United States with Japanese persimmon trees that were planted in Washington, D.C. Persimmons were introduced into Queensland, Australia, about 1885. They have been cultivated on the Mediterranean coast of France, Italy, and other European countries, and in southern Russia and Algeria for more than a century. The first trees were introduced into Palestine in 1912 and others were later brought in from Sicily and America.

Grafted trees were imported in 1870 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and distributed to California and the southern states. Other importations were made by private interests until 1919. Seeds, cuttings, budwood and live trees of numerous types were brought into the United States at various times from 1911 to 1923 by government plant explorers. The persimmon tree has been found best adapted to central and southern California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, southeastern Virginia, and northern Florida. A few specimens have been grown in southern Maryland, eastern Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and Oregon.

There are hundreds of varieties of persimmon, but two types are commercially available. The Hachiya dominates with about 90% of the market. It is an astringent fruit, bright orange in color, and shaped like a large, slightly elongated tomato that almost comes to a point at the bottom. Hachiyas must be fully ripe to be enjoyed. Fully ripe means a mushy, intense orange, jelly-like texture that is a turnoff for many people. The taste is compared to that of an overly sweet apricot with a smooth, slippery texture.

The Fuyu, also bright orange in color, is a non-astringent variety slowly gaining in popularity. It is eaten when firm, just like an apple, shiny skin and all. You can recognize a Fuyu by its squat shape and flat bottom, close to the appearance of a medium-sized tomato.

Persimmons are low in calories, fat, and sodium, and like all fruits, contains no cholesterol. They’re an excellent source of vitamin A, manganese, fiber, and vitamin C. Persimmons can:

  1. Promote healthy vision. The vitamin A in persimmons promotes healthy vision.
  2. Build strong bodies. The vitamin A in persimmons promotes healthy skin and mucous membranes, bone and tooth growth, and immune system health. The vitamin C in persimmons helps produce collagen, which supports strong bones, muscles, blood vessels, gums, mucous membranes, corneas, joints, and other supporting cells and tissues, and helps you absorb iron and calcium.
  3. Prevent cardiovascular disease. The fiber in persimmons helps lower cholesterol by attaching itself to bile acids that your liver makes from cholesterol for digesting fat. Because fiber binds so well with bile acid, thus crowding its ability to immediately digest fat, your liver must produce more bile acid, using cholesterol that it pulls out of your blood, lowering the overall cholesterol level in your body. Furthermore, the high levels of vitamin C and vitamin A prevent cholesterol from oxidizing in your blood vessels, preventing the onset of atherosclerosis.
  4. Support your immune system. The vitamin C in persimmons supports your immune system; processes toxins for elimination; and acts as an antihistamine.
  5. Fight free radicals. Persimmons are high in carotenoid and flavonoid antioxidants. They also contain a very good amount of manganese, which is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. The vitamin C in persimmons functions as an antioxidant and prevents oxygen-based damage to your cells. Lycopene in persimmons protects your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, and helps prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, thereby slowing the development of atherosclerosis. Gallocatechins in persimmons are potent antioxidants that can prevent tumor blood vessel growth, protect against the development of atherosclerotic plaque buildups in arteries, help promote anti-diabetic effects in insulin resistance, and provide significant protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
  6. Fight toxins. The lycopene in persimmons activates an essential detoxification protein and directly increases the activity of detoxification enzymes.
  7. Give you energy and strengthManganese in persimmons facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism.
  8. Fight cancer. The vitamin C in persimmons helps prevent cancer by neutralizing volatile oxygen free radical molecules and preventing damage to your DNA that can lead to cancer and by destabilizing a tumor’s ability to grow under oxygen-starved conditions.

Nutrition Facts for Raw Japanese Persimmons per 100 grams

Percent daily values based on the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for a 2000

Amount Per Serving

Nutrient Amount Daily Value
vitamin A 1627IU 33%
manganese 0.36mg 18%
fiber 3.6g 14%
vitamin C 7.5mg 13%
vitamin E 0.73mg 7%
carbohydrates 18.59g 6%
copper 0.11mg 6%
potassium 161mg 5%
vitamin B6 0.1mg 5%
Calories 70 3.5%
vitamin K 2.6mcg 3%
phosphorus 17mg 2%
magnesium 9mg 2%
folate 8mcg 2%
thiamine 0.03mg 2%
calcium 8mg <1%
sodium 1mg <1%
selenium 0.6mcg <1%
protein 0.58g 1%
fat 0.19g <1%
iron 0.15mg <1%
zinc 0.11mg <1%
niacin 0.1mg <1%
riboflavin 0.02mg 1%
saturated fat 0.02g <1%
cholesterol  0mg 0%

Some persimmons will begin to appear in the markets in late September, but November and December are when they’re most plentiful. In some areas, their availability may even stretch into January.

Because the Hachiya variety is so delicate in its ripe state, it is picked and shipped to market while still hard and unripe. A persimmon whose color is bright orange all over will ripen more successfully than those with yellow patches, which indicate they were picked before maturity. If you purchase persimmons that are quite firm, allow them to ripen at room temperature, a process that may take up to a week.

Purchase Fuyu persimmons when very firm. Enjoy them as they are, crunchy and sweet, or allow them to soften a bit at room temperature. There are several varieties of Fuyu. Some have large black seeds inside, while others are seedless. The Gosho variety, with its redish-orange color and black seeds, may turn up at your local farmers’ markets.

You can store firm Hachiyas up to one month in the refrigerator before setting them out at room temperature to ripen. To enjoy them out of season, freeze them for six months before ripening. Once ripe, Hachiya persimmons don’t keep well. Eat them right away or refrigerate for no more than a day or two. If you’re waiting for several persimmons to ripen to make persimmon pudding, you can spoon out the flesh of each persimmon as it ripens, and store it in the freezer in an airtight container until you have the amount you need.

Here are some ways to enjoy persimmons:

  • Ripe persimmons can be sliced, peeled or unpeeled, and oven-dried or dried in a dehydrator. Unripe, firm Hachiyas can be peeled and dried whole, a process that helps them to lose all their astringency and develop a sweet, softened texture.
  • To enjoy the best of flavor, eat both varieties of persimmons fresh as soon as they are ripe. Their flavors are sweet, rich, and satisfying.
  • Cut raw persimmons into quarters and serve them for breakfast.
  • Dice Fuyu persimmons and add them to fruit or vegetable salads.
  • Blend Hachiya persimmons in the blender with some soy milk or soft silken tofu and a dash of cinnamon to make a delicious smoothie.
  • Use ripe Hachiya persimmons to add rich flavor and moistness to cakes, cookies, muffins, quick breads, and steamed puddings.
  • Add mashed Hachiyas to pancake or waffle batter.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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