Not a tomato: it’s a Fuyu persimmon. Photo by J. Irkaejc | IST.
It’s a bright, glossy orange color, celebrating Halloween and fall.
It’s nutritious, with almost 72% of the Daily Value of vitamin A (from all that beta carotene that makes it so orange), about 25% DV of fiber, more than 21% DV of vitamin C and 9% of copper.*
And many of us have never tasted one.
What is it?
It’s a persimmon: a tree fruit originally domesticated in ancient China, where it was considered a precious food. The name first appears around 450 B.C.E., in a writing by Kong Ji, a grandson of Confucius. Almost 1300 centuries later, in the late 1880s, a Japanese persimmon arrived in Washington D.C., brought by a naval commander returning from Japan.
There are hundreds of persimmon varieties, ranging in color from pale yellow-orange to dark red-orange. Most of them are too astringent to eat.
But two commercial varieties are grown in California and are available from September through December.
Hachiya persimmon is an astringent variety that comprises about 90% of persimmons grown in the U.S. It has a tapered shape, reminiscent of an acorn. Astringent persimmons have high levels of unsoluble tannins that make them bitter, chalky and unpleasant until they ripen. When ripe, they feel like a ripe tomato. The interior of the ripe fruit comprises thick pulp that is seedless and has no core. The skin is not eaten.
Fuyu persimmon is a nonastringent variety also known as kaki or sharon fruit.† It looks like a squat tomato. The Fuyu variety is not only sweeter than the Hachiya, but it’s also edible while still firm. Buy Fuyu when you want sliced or cubed flesh for a recipe. Unlike the Hachiya, it has a core that is not eaten, but the skin is eaten.
There is a third variety of persimmon, known as the pollination-variant non-astringent persimmon, that is available from small growers. Full pollination makes their flesh a brown color, or flecked with brown. Like the non-astringent Fuyu, these fruits can be eaten when firm. Look in farmers markets for the Tsurunoko or chocolate persimmon, the Maru or cinnamon persimmon (its brown-flecked yellow flesh has a spicy flavor; it’s available in November and December from Melissas.com) and the Hyakume, or brown sugar persimmon.
Both varieties are the color of an orange tomato, but there is no relation. The two fruits branch off at the Order level (remember high school biology: Kingdom, Order, Family, Genus, Species).
How To Buy & Store Persimmons
Persimmons reach full orange color before they are fully ripe; they are harvested when crisp and firm. They often arrive at the market before they are ready to eat and develop flavor as they soften‡. A fully ripe persimmon is soft to the touch, with slightly wrinkled skin. If you find ripe persimmons, plan to eat them immediately: Overripe persimmons get mushy. One medium persimmon has about 118 calories.
How To Eat Persimmons
As a fresh fruit, Fuyu persimmons can be eaten like an apple. Since their skin isn’t eaten, Hachiya persimmons need only to be halved: Remove the seeds and spoon the fruit from the skin. With a little more work, you can enjoy persimmons in as many ways as other fruits:
Breakfast: Have a persimmon with cottage cheese or yogurt, or sliced or diced as a topper for hot or cold cereal, pancakes and waffles. You can also use puréed persimmon instead of pancake syrup.
Salads & Salsas: Add firm Fuyu persimmon slices or cubes to fruit salads and green salads. Cube apples and Fuyu persimmons for a colorful fruit salad, mixed with red and green grapes, sliced kiwi and pomegranate arils, plus optional almonds, pecans or walnuts. Similarly, you can add diced persimmon to salsa.
Drinks: Purée the flesh and add to cocktails or smoothies.
Sauces: Use the purée to make a fruit sauce for desserts or for fish and poultry.
Baking: Use the purée in cakes, cookies and muffins.
Snacks: Make a sophisticated snack: sliced Fuyu persimmons dipped in or sprinkled with chili powder, drizzled with lime juice and a pinch of crunchy sea salt; eat it on its own or with a side of ricotta or soft goat cheese. Instead of chili powder, you can sprinkle the fruit with minced fresh jalapeño.
Dessert: Make persimmon pudding, persimmon sorbet or persimmon ice cream. In addition to the classic technique, we’re told that you can make “quick sorbet” by freezing the fruit for four hours, then scooping out the frozen flesh.
Let us know how you enjoy persimmons!
*Eaten daily, the beta-carotene in two persimmons can help to avoid breast cancer. The beta-carotene may also prevent infections such as colds and flu. Source. Other studies suggest that beta-carotene can reduce the incidence of heart attacks.
†Fuyu is also known as Sharon fruit, grown extensively on the Sharon plain of Israel, the northern half of the country’s coastal plain. It is also known as kaki after its botanical name, Diospyros kaki, as well as by an older name, “apple of the Orient.”
‡Ripen persimmons at room temperature in a paper bag with an apple or banana. You can store them in the refrigerator when ripe, but don’t keep them there for long or they’ll get mushy.