Native to China, the persimmon has spread throughout the world to many other locations. There are as many as 500 varieties of persimmon. The most commonly available ones in the U.S. are generally yellow-orange when unripe and deep orange when fully ripe. Other varieties include the Black Sapote from Mexico and the red Mabolo from the Phillippines.
Persimmon can be divided into two basic types: astringent and non-astringent. Astringent varieties need to ripen on the tree and then be stored in cold temperatures (or frozen) to remove astringency. Non-astringent varieties are sweet and can be enjoyed even when not fully ripe.
Two of the most well-known persimmon are the ‘Hachiya’, a conical-shaped astringent type, and the ‘Fuyu’, a squat-round non-astringent type. Both are seedless, although many types of persimmons have seeds. ‘Sharon’ is a trade name for a variety of persimmon that has been artificially ripened. Wild persimmon are astringent, seeded, and should be allowed to drop before harvesting—just leave any damaged ones for the local wild life. They enjoy persimmon, too.
What is it related to? Persimmon (Diospyros L.) are small tomato-like fruits (technically a berry) in the Ebony family, Ebenaceae, comprised of trees and shrubs with black hardwood. Asian or Japanese persimmon are also called kaki (after Diospyros kaki).
When is it available? The peak season for fresh persimmons is early fall through early winter.
What does it look like? Persimmon are medium-size smooth fruits that may be conical (shaped like an acorn) or round and squat, like a tomato or mini-pumpkin. The most common varieties are shades of orange, turning deeper in color as they ripen. The 4-lobed calyx is usually present on top of the fruit.
What portions do I eat? The portion commonly used for eating or cooking is the pulp. Some preparations my call for using the skin, if ripe and soft. However, consuming too much unripe pulp or persimmon skin can result in intestinal blockage. The leaves (actually a calyx) are always discarded. The seeds are usually discarded, but can be roasted and used to brew a coffee-like beverage.
What does it taste like? Fully ripe persimmon are very sweet and succulent with a delicate flavor that is reminiscent of mango and kiwi. If tart and astringent, the persimmon is not ripe; if bland, the persimmon is not fully ripe.
What’s the best way to store it? Store fresh, unripe (firm) persimmons in a cool, dry place until ripe (the color deepens and the skin feels soft when pressed gently–astringent varieties become very soft). To speed ripening, place in a closed bag or container with other ethylene producing fruits such as apples or bananas. Alternatively, store unripe fruits in the freezer for 24 hours to diminish astringency and soften (but not sweeten) the pulp. Store ripe fruits in the refrigerator and eat or prepare within a few days. Wild, tree-ripened fruits should be fully ripe and eaten or preserved immediately (within 24 hours).
How is it prepared? If the persimmon will be consumed raw, it should be fully ripe to avoid digestion problems, as well as for optimum sweetness and flavor. Wash persimmon just before using by rinsing well under running water. Peel persimmons or slice in half and scoop out the flesh. If your persimmons contain seeds, press cut fruit through a china cap or strainer to extract the pulp and remove the skin and seeds. Freeze the pulp, or spread thin and dry to make persimmon fruit leather. Whole or sliced persimmon (especially the astringent variety) are also dried for snacking. Chopped dried persimmon can be used in place of raisins in baked goods. Persimmon also make good cider, wine, and beer.
How is it served? To eat persimmons raw, be sure to choose a fully ripe fruit, cut in half horizontally and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Alternatively, peel the fruit, dice, and mix with other fruits for a salad. Persimmon combine well with other fall/winter fruits such as oranges, grapes, and pears. Use mashed or puréed persimmon in smoothies, ice cream, steamed puddings, pie fillings, cakes, cookies, breads, or as a spread for toast. Use purée to make sauce or jam.
Recipes to get you started:
- Mitchell Indiana Persimmon Festival offers award-winning dessert recipes
- Persimmon Pudding with Hard Sauce from Food Network
- Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Icing from epicurious
- Lemon-Glazed Persimmon Bars from Saveur
- Persimmon Bread II from allrecipes.com
- Broiled Persimmons with Mascarpone from Martha Stewart