Fall Harvest: Persimmon

October 11, 2013 at 8:53 AM | Posted in fruits | 1 Comment
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Persimmons are available for a short window in the fall and early winter – look for bright, heavy-feeling fruits.

A branch heavily laden with persimmons

A branch heavily laden with persimmons

Persimmons are the edible fruit of a number of species of trees in the genus Diospyros. Diospyros is in the family Ebenaceae. In color the ripe fruit of the cultivated strains range from light yellow-orange to dark red-orange depending on the species and variety. They similarly vary in size from 1.5 to 9 cm (0.5 to 4 in) in diameter, and in shape the varieties may be spherical, acorn-, or pumpkin-shaped. The calyx generally remains attached to the fruit after harvesting, but becomes easy to remove once the fruit is ripe. The ripe fruit has a high glucose content. The protein content is low, but it has a balanced protein profile. Persimmon fruits have been put to various medicinal and chemical uses.
Like the tomato, persimmons are not popularly considered to be berries, but in terms of botanical morphology the fruit is in fact a berry.

Commercially and in general, there are two types of persimmon fruit: astringent and non-astringent.
The heart-shaped Hachiya is the most common variety of astringent persimmon. Astringent persimmons contain very high levels of soluble tannins and are unpalatably astringent (or “furry” tasting) if eaten before completely softened. However, the sweet, delicate flavor of fully ripened persimmons of varieties that are astringent when unripe, is particularly relished. The astringency of tannins is removed in various ways. Examples include ripening by exposure to light for several days, and wrapping the fruit in paper (probably because this increases the ethylene concentration of the surrounding air). Ethylene ripening can be increased in reliability and evenness, and the process can be greatly accelerated, by adding ethylene gas to the atmosphere in which the fruit are stored. For domestic purposes the most convenient and effective process is to store the ripening persimmons in a clean, dry container together with other varieties of fruit that give off particularly large quantities of ethylene while they are ripening; apples and related fruits such as pears are effective, and so are bananas and several others. Other chemicals are used commercially in artificially ripening persimmons or delaying their ripening. Examples include alcohol and carbon dioxide which change tannin into the insoluble form. Such bletting processes sometimes are jumpstarted by exposing the fruit to cold or frost. The resultant cell damage stimulates the release of ethylene, which promotes cellular wall breakdown.

One traditional misconception is that persimmons are to be ripened till rotten. This is a confusion of the processes of controlled ripening with the processes of decay, possibly arising from problems of translation from Asiatic languages onto English. Rotting is the action of microorganisms such as fungi, and rotting persimmons are no better than any other rotting fruit. Sound persimmons should be ripened till they are fully soft, except that the carpels still might be softly chewy. At that stage the skin might be splitting and the calyx can easily be plucked out of the fruit before serving, which often is a good sign that the soft fruit is ready to eat.
Astringent varieties of persimmons also can be prepared for commercial purposes by drying. Tanenashi fruit will occasionally contain a seed or two, which can be planted and will yield a larger more vertical tree than when merely grafted onto the D. virginiana rootstock most commonly used in the U.S. Such seedling trees may produce fruit that bears more seeds, usually 6 to 8 per fruit, and the fruit itself may vary slightly from the parent tree. Seedlings are said to be more susceptible to root nematodes.
The non-astringent persimmon is squat like a tomato and is most commonly sold as fuyu. Non-astringent persimmons are not actually free of tannins as the term suggests, but rather are far less astringent before ripening, and lose more of their tannic quality sooner. Non-astringent persimmons may be consumed when still very firm, and remain edible when very soft.
There is a third type, less commonly available, the pollination-variant non-astringent persimmons. When fully pollinated, the flesh of these fruit is brown inside—known as goma in Japan—and the fruit can be eaten firm. These varieties are highly sought after and can be found at specialty markets or farmers markets only. Tsurunoko, sold as “chocolate persimmon” for its dark brown flesh, Maru, sold as “cinnamon persimmon” for its spicy flavor, and Hyakume, sold as “brown sugar” are the three best known.
Before ripening, persimmons usually have a “chalky” taste or bitter taste.

A ripe hachiya persimmon fruit

A ripe hachiya persimmon fruit

Persimmons are eaten fresh, dried, raw, or cooked. When eaten fresh they are usually eaten whole like an apple or cut into quarters, though with some varieties it is best to peel the skin first. One way to consume very ripe persimmons, which can have the texture of pudding, is to remove the top leaf with a paring knife and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Riper persimmons can also be eaten by removing the top leaf, breaking the fruit in half and eating from the inside out. The flesh ranges from firm to mushy, and the texture is unique. The flesh is very sweet and when firm due to being unripe, possesses an apple-like crunch. American persimmons and diospyros digyna are completely inedible until they are fully ripe.
In China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam after harvesting, ‘Hachiya’ persimmons are prepared using traditional hand-drying techniques, outdoors for two to three weeks. The fruit is then further dried by exposure to heat over several days before being shipped to market.

In Korea, dried persimmon fruits are used to make the traditional Korean spicy punch, sujeonggwa, while the matured, fermented fruit is used to make a persimmon vinegar called gamsikcho (감식초). The hoshigaki tradition traveled to California with Japanese American immigrants.
In Taiwan, fruits of astringent varieties are sealed in jars filled with limewater to get rid of bitterness. Slightly hardened in the process, they are sold under the name “crisp persimmon” (cuishi 脆柿) or “water persimmon” (shuishizi 水柿子). Preparation time is dependent upon temperature (5 to 7 days at 25–28 °C (77–82 °F)). In some areas of Manchuria and Korea, the dried leaves of the fruit are used for making tea. The Korean name for this tea is ghamnip cha (감잎차).
In the state of Indiana (US), persimmons are harvested and used in a variety of dessert dishes most notably pies. It can be used in cookies, cakes, puddings, salads, curries and as a topping for breakfast cereal. Persimmon pudding is a dessert using fresh persimmons. An annual persimmon festival, featuring a persimmon pudding contest, is held every September in Mitchell, Indiana. Persimmon pudding is a baked pudding that has the consistency of pumpkin pie but resembles a brownie and is almost always topped with whipped cream. Persimmons may be stored at room temperature 20 °C (68 °F) where they will continue to ripen. In northern China, unripe persimmons are frozen outside during winter to speed up the ripening process.

Compared to apples, persimmons have higher levels of dietary fiber, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and manganese, but lower levels of copper and zinc. They also contain vitamin C and provitamin A beta-carotene (Nutrient table, right).
Persimmon fruits contain phytochemicals, such as catechin and gallocatechin, as well as compounds under preliminary research for potential anti-cancer activity, such as betulinic acid. In one study, a diet supplemented with dried, powdered triumph persimmons improved lipid metabolism in laboratory rats.

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