“OK, this is probably going to make me look dumb,” wrote a recent emailer to the Phytonutrient Blog, “but I have been reading more and more about persimmons and I just have to ask – What the heck is a persimmon?”
Asking that question does not make one look dumb, remember the old adage, “the only stupid question is the one not asked.”
The persimmon, sometimes called the ‘sharon’ fruit (the odd name given to one of its varieties by Israeli growers) has much to commend it. Persimmons are high in beta carotine and minerals such as sodium, magnesium, calcium and iron, and studies have found that they also contain twice as much dietary fibre per 100g as apples, plus more of the phenolic compounds that ward off heart disease.
It also tastes delicious – providing you know what you're buying, and eat it at the right moment. Big caution here, take one bight of an unripe persimmon and you will know it! Produced mainly in China, Korea and Japan, but with varieties also found in America, southern Europe and even Britain (where, known as the date-plum, it is has been grown since 1629), there are actually two main types of persimmon: astringent, often called hachiya or saijo persimmons, and non-astringent, sheng or fuyu persimmons.
Persimmon’s native country is China, where it was nicknamed “The Apple of the Orient.” From China, the persimmon drifted easily into Japan, where it still plays a primary role in the Japanese cuisine, and then it spread all over the world.
A ripe persimmon tastes very sweet and has a “honey-like flavor.” Some parts of the flesh may turn brown but this is not because it has turned bad, but is actually caused by the sugar in the fruit.
As mentioned above, there are generally two types of persimmons—astringent and non-astringent. The astringent persimmon contains high levels of tannin before softening, which makes the fruit inedible. Whereas the non-astringent persimmon loses the tannin sooner making the fruit edible even while firm.
The shape of the fruit varies from spherical to acorn to flattened or even squarish. The color varies from light yellow-orange to dark orange-red. The size of a persimmon can vary from about the size of small orange to as big as a grapefruit, depending on the variety. Persimmons are usually not juiced but are eaten on their own, like a mango, or pureed or for making smoothies. They are highly fibrous, delicious and nutritious.
To check if persimmons are ripe, lightly depress the fruit. If it’s hard, it’s not yet ripe, do not eat unless you’re certain that you’ve got the non-astringent variety.
Fully ripe persimmons are soft to the touch, very sweet and so creamy that they can be eaten as they are. Simply cut them into two halves and eat the pulp with a spoon. They can also be used to prepare delicious sauces, creams, jams, jellies and smoothies.
As far as eating them is concerned, fresh fuyus or sheng, are generally firm enough to slice and munch like an apple (peel them if you prefer, but the skin is perfectly edible); they work well in salads or baked in pies and cakes. Hachiyas and saijos, on the other hand, are often too squishy to bite into without making a mess: better cut them in half and spoon out the flesh, or use them in jams or compotes.
- crypto-xantin that gives it the brilliant orange color
- catechins, gallocatechins which are anti-oxidants from the flavonoids family, known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-hemorrhagic properties
- The anti-tumor compound called betulinic acid
- beta carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and crypto-xanthin are anti-oxidants that help neutralize free-radicals and prevent oxidation and cancer
- Persimmon is rich in vitamin A, C, the B vitamins. In the minerals department, it is dense-packed with calcium, potassium, iron, manganese, phosphorus and copper.
- Cold and flu: Thanks to its content in vitamin C, persimmon is highly effective in enhancing the immune system function and can help relieve the symptoms of flu and cold, as well as many other infectious or inflammatory conditions.
- Constipation: Due to its high content in fiber and water, persimmon does have excellent laxative properties that can be a powerful natural remedy for constipation.
- Diuretic effect: Persimmon does have excellent diuretic properties, due to its high content in potassium and calcium. Eating a persimmon, a day is an effective way to prevent or relieve water retention. Daily consumption of persimmon is better than the use of diuretic drugs, since persimmon does not cause potassium loss which is associated with many known diuretics.
- High blood pressure: Helps reduce high blood pressure and prevent many heart conditions associated with hypertension.
- Liver health and body detoxification: Persimmon is an excellent source of anti-oxidants which play a key role in liver health and body detoxification. Anti-oxidants help neutralize toxins and other harmful substances in the body, prevent and treat the damages caused by free-radicals.
- Natural energizer: Persimmons are highly digestible fruits and also provide a lot of readily available energy (in the form of sugars) to sustain any energy-requiring activity. That’s why they are particularly recommended for children and people who practice sports or other physical activities.
- Stress, tiredness and fatigue: Due to their high content in sugars and potassium, persimmon juice can help reinforce the body with energy and relieve the symptoms of stress, fatigue and tiredness without the need to use special energetic and nutritional supplements.
Persimmons have a short season starting in October and ending in mid-January. If you can't find them at your regular supermarket, try an Asian market. Go ahead, give persimmons a try, you won't regret it - unless of course it is not yet ripe!