Without a doubt, persimmons are one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated fruits. It’s a shame, because these gorgeous orange globes, whose Latin name, diospyros, means “food of the gods,” are extremely sweet and versatile when handled properly. Nothing appears more festive than the bare branches of a persimmon tree, bedecked with brilliant fruits dangling like glowing lanterns from its stark and leafless limbs.
The varieties most commonly encountered in the US are Hachiya and Fuyu, which originated in Japan, where the persimmon is so popular it’s honored as the national fruit. The heart-shaped Hachiya can be tricky to use unless the fruit is fully ripe, which translates to jelly-soft and ready to burst. If not in a nearly gelatinous state, the Hachiya is horribly astringent and the tannins in its flesh will suck the moisture from your mouth. No doubt this is why persimmons are underappreciated (and sometimes vilified) by novices in this country. When ripe, however, patience is rewarded; the tannins disappear and the flesh becomes lusciously sweet, creamy, and intensely flavorful. Hachiya persimmons are generally used in baking, as they tend to lose their shape once they attain peak ripeness.
The Fuyu persimmon is lighter orange in color than the Hachiya and resembles a squat tomato in shape. It is user-friendly — completely non-astringent — and can be eaten out of hand like an apple. Fuyus are firm and crisp when ripe; they never soften to jelly like their cousins.
Persimmons are also native to the eastern and mid-Atlantic regions of this country. They played an important role in the Native American and early Colonials’ diet, but they’ve been eclipsed in modern times by the larger, more brilliantly colored Asian varieties grown commercially in California.
Commercially available persimmons are almost always Hachiya and Fuyu — but if you’re lucky, you might find a specialty market or farm stand that sells the more exotic chocolate or cinnamon persimmons, lesser-known but glamorous Hachiya subvarietals. Chocolate persimmons have brown-marbled flesh with a faint chocolate flavor and are astringent unless fully ripe. Cinnamons, on the other hand, are sweet and crisp, resembling Fuyus in shape, texture and taste; their skin is yellow-orange and their flesh is speckled with cinnamon-colored flecks.
Persimmons provide a good source of fiber and vitamins C and A. Recent studies suggest that persimmons can lower blood fats and are potent antioxidants. Their brilliant orange color indicates they contain carotenoids, which have also been shown to have significant health benefits.The peak season for domestic persimmons is October through December.
How to store persimmons
When choosing Fuyus, look for fruit with a green (not brown) calyx. Skin color should be light orange, not yellow or green. If the fruits are very firm, allow them to ripen at room temperature for several days; slight softening will ensure the best flavor. Store in the refrigerator for up to 14 days or freeze (whole) for three months.
Hachiyas are shipped and sold unripe because the ripe fruit are so fragile. Remember that their intense orange-red skin color is not an indication of ripeness! Ripen them at room temperature or store them in a loosely sealed paper bag with a banana or apple to hasten the process. It might take up to 2 weeks for the fruit to reach the jelly-soft stage. Once ripe, refrigerate persimmons for up to 3 days. If you’re in a hurry to use your Hachiyas, you can freeze them for 24 hours. Then thaw the fruit in the refrigerator and use the pulp for baking. Its astringency will disappear, but the persimmon’s full sweetness won’t have developed over a single day. To increase its flavor, leave the persimmon in the freezer for about 2 weeks
Tips for using persimmons
Culinary uses of the persimmon are many. Fuyus can be eaten like any other fruit; peeling is optional, but pull off the calyx before serving. Slice or cut it into wedges and use in salads, or add it to fruit crisps and salsas.
Hachiya can be eaten out of hand as well. Cut the fruit in half lengthwise, remove and discard the seeds, then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Hachiya puree is a wonderful item to have on hand for baking and can be incorporated into muffins, cakes, ice creams, puddings, sauces, smoothies, and quick breads. Remove and discard the calyx, skin, and seeds before pureeing the flesh. For a quick dessert popular in Italy, freeze a ripe Hachiya (unwrapped), cut off the top, and scoop the semi-frozen pulp out of the skin. Voila, an instant sorbet!
Why choose organic?
Choose organic whenever you can to help keep the residues of conventional agricultural pesticides and fertilizers out of your food. Organic produce is grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, using sustainable farming methods that protect the environment and help keep pesticides out of our soil, air, water and food supply. Organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet — and we think it tastes better, too!