Persimmons come from the Diospyros genus which encompasses more than 700 species of trees and shrubs. There are two commonly cultivated varieties of persimmon. Diospyros kaki is found in Japan, China and Korea while Diospyros virginiana is the American persimmon and is grown in states including Texas, Florida and parts of California.
There is much debate around the fruit’s exact origins as it grows in many parts of the world, but it is believed to have originated from the mountains of Southern China where it is an important crop. Today, different varieties can also be found in Brazil, Spain, Turkey, Italy and Israel.
Growth and harvest
Persimmons are relatively easy to grow as long as there is sufficient drainage and compostrich, loamy soil. A variety of persimmon should be selected according to its suitability to the growing region. While kaki persimmons prefer mild winter weather, American persimmons can withstand cold temperatures.
The trees can grow from 4.5m up to 18m in height and have a rounded top shape comprising oblong leaves between 7cm to 15cm. Each leaf has brown hairy petioles that are approximately 2cm in length and change colour according to the season. Trees take between eight to 10 years to bear fruit after being planted. American persimmon trees have two to three fruits in a bunch while Asian persimmons have one or two.
Fruit must be cut from the tree using a hand pruner, scissors or a knife, ensuring the stem remains attached. Persimmons tend to bruise easily, so it is recommended they are placed on a tray in a single layer.
Flavour profile and appearance
Persimmons have a tomato or pumpkin-like appearance and change from yellow orange in colour to deep red-orange as they ripen. American persimmons are extremely astringent until they reach peak ripeness.
Asian persimmons tend to be larger than the American variety, with the fruit reaching up to 9cm in diameter. They have a smooth texture and for the most part, are non-astringent.
Persimmons have a sweet, mild and rich flavour profile that is comparable to honey. The flesh is red-orange in colour and surrounds black seeds in the centre.
Culinary applications and storage
It is recommended persimmons are generally only eaten when they are ripe except for varieties such as Fuyu, which can be consumed ripe or unripe, but the black seeds should always be avoided. Ripe persimmons are commonly used in desserts and are often steamed in puddings.
In the US, persimmon beer is a popular application and is a mildly alcoholic beverage that sees the fruit undergo a fermentation process. Persimmons are known to pair well with hearty meat dishes featuring pork chops or
chicken. When unripe, the fruit has a crunchy texture and can be diced or sliced and added to salads, salsas and smorgasbords.