Ever wondered what exactly makes a persimmon a persimmon? Well, you’ve come to the right place.
What Is a Persimmon?
A persimmon is an edible fruit (a berry, specifically) that grows on a variety of trees in the genus Diospyros. The most widely cultivated among these is the Diospyros kaki, or the Asian persimmon.
When ripe, persimmons range in color from light yellow to dark red-orange. They range in size and shape, too. You can find persimmons as small as three-fourths of an inch in diameter or as large as three and a half inches in diameter. Some are rounded, while others are heart- or pumpkin-shaped.
According to American tradition, you can use the pattern inside persimmon seeds (called cotyledon) to predict the weather. If the shape inside looks like a:
fork, winter will be mild.
spoon, winter will be snowy.
knife, the bitterly cold weather will “cut like a knife.”
Related: How to Eat a Persimmon
Types of Persimmons
There are two main types of Asian persimmons: Fuyu and Hachiya.
Hachiya are pale, heart or acorn-shaped, and astringent. Astringent persimmons contain high levels of soluble tannins—you don’t want to eat these unless they’re ripe and completely softened.
Fuyu are shaped like tomatoes. While they have some tannins, they’re less astringent than their Hachiya counterparts, making them palatable sooner. You can eat and enjoy these while they’re still firm.
The American persimmon, also known as Diospyros virginiana or the common persimmon, is another extremely astringent fruit native to various parts of the U.S., from the Ozarks to the Gulf Coast. The tree was prized by early Native Americans for its fruit and wood.
Fun fact about the American persimmon: Its seeds were used as buttons during the Civil War.
What Do Persimmons Taste Like?
A good persimmon at its peak will taste sweet, mild, and rich. Many people have described its flavor as “honey-like.” Its texture is similar to that of an apricot and its skin is a bit tougher than an apple’s.
Biting into an unripe persimmon is considered by most to be an unpleasant experience, as it will taste bitter and the high amount of tannins will make your mouth pucker and go dry.
Great news for persimmon lovers: The fruit is chock-full of nutrients—like thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, and phosphorous—and is relatively low in calories (about 118 per persimmon), making it a good choice for weight loss or weight management.
Persimmons are also valued for their antioxidant qualities, high fiber content, and possible anti-inflammatory abilities.
Some experts say that persimmons, a powerful source of flavonoid antioxidants, can help prevent heart disease.
And that’s not all: One persimmon contains about 55 percent of the recommended intake of vitamin A, which boosts the functions of your conjunctival membranes and corneas and supports overall eye health.
How to Pick a Persimmon
The persimmon, a fall fruit, is in season October through February.
Choosing persimmons at the grocery store or farmers’ market is similar to choosing tomatoes: You should look for fruits that are smooth, blemish-free, and have a little bit of give when gently squeezed.
Again, you’re not going to get the most out of your persimmon if you try to eat it before it’s ripe. This is true for all persimmons, but especially for those that are particularly astringent.
Unfortunately for us, critters like deer and raccoons are fond of the fruit while it’s still very bitter—this is why astringent persimmons are picked in early autumn, when they’re still quite firm.
Wait for the astringent fruits to ripen at room temperature. You’ll know it’s ready to eat when it feels soft to the touch, or when its leafy green top pulls off easily.
You can speed up the process by storing unripe persimmons in a paper bag with a ripe apple, which gives off ethylene gas.
Persimmons are often eaten fresh as a snack, tossed with salads, roasted, or cooked into desserts.
Ready to take a crack at cooking with persimmons? We’ve got you covered: