(Diospyros kaki and Diospyros virginiana— Family Ebenaceae)
Persimmon, kaki, date plum, Sharon fruit, Japanese persimmon
kaki/plaquemine (French), Kaki/Persimmon (German), caqui (Spanish), daddelblomme (Danish), persimon (träd)(Swedish), kakiluumu/amerikanpersimoni (Finnish), khurma (Russian), biospiros/trapexounia (Greek), trabzon hurmasi (Turkish), afarsemon (Hebrew), kaki (Arabic), kharmalu (Persian), shi zi (Chinese), kaki (Japanese), kesemak (Indonesian)
The name persimmon comes from “putchamin”, a phonetic rendering of the name used by the Native Americans of the Algonquin tribe, who often dried them to be eaten in the winter, as well as eating them ripe after they had fallen from the tree.
Captain John Smith, in the 17th century, likened the fruit to the medlar. A ripe persimmon is usually yellowish pink or orange to red in colour, but can be darker. It can be as small as a cherry or as large as a big plum and may, or may not, contain seeds.
There are two kinds of persimmon: “kaki” (D. kaki), which belongs to China, Japan, and Korea; and the American persimmon (D. virginiana).
The oriental persimmons are more astringent and less nutritious than the American, but the American persimmons are smaller and seedier. The American variety has twice the carbohydrates, sixteen times the iron, twice the potassium, and nine times as much Vitamin C as the Japanese fruit. They are also rich in vitamin A and calcium.
Persimmons arouse strong feelings as people either love them or hate them. “Kaki” means “food of the gods” and seems to have originated in Japan. The fruit resembles large, orange tomatoes; but, instead, they have a wide, pale brown calyx and translucent, inedible skin.
At their best, they have a very sweet, honeyed flavour, described as being like a combination of plum, honey, apricot, pumpkin, and mango laced with perfume. Unripened fruit, on the other hand, are almost inedible, being extremely sour and astringent. Some are slightly more spicy than others, but most are very sweet.
When choosing one, a persimmon should be plump and extremely soft and pulpy, with undamaged skin. A perfect specimen will look as though it is about to burst, and must be handled with care. The fruits are best eaten raw. The top is sliced off, and the flesh is spooned out and served as is or puréed for a variety of sauces.
The kaki fruit
has many shapes – conical, round, flattened, or almost cubical. Its colours can be yellow-orange to red, and some can weigh as much as a pound.
The thin skin encloses an orange-coloured pulp that can have seeds. Although there are hundreds of varieties, the two main commercial ones are Hachiya and Fuyu.
Hachiya are packed with mouth-puckering tannins when they are not ripe. When they ripen, the tannins become inert; and the astringency disappears.
Fuyu persimmons (also called Fuji) are tomato-shaped and a brilliant orange and are not astringent when “green” or unripe. Hachiya are acorn-shaped, with a pointed tip and orange-red flesh and skin.
They become soft when very ripe and take several weeks of room temperature to reach that stage. Fuyu ripens in just a few days at room temperature and remains quite firm.
The kaki was introduced to the US by Commodore Perry in 1856. Cultivation now is generally confined to California, with seedless varieties being preferred. Fruits with seeds ripen on the tree, often remaining there like lanterns long after the leaves have fallen.
Seedless varieties can be picked while they are still hard, and then ripened using ethylene gas. This process can also be done at home by placing unripe fruit in a lidded cardboard box along with a ripening banana, which gives off the same gas.
Americans regard the kaki as a fresh fruit to be eaten out of hand or used in such desserts as ice cream. In eastern Asia, however, the custom has been to dry them for storage and use during the winter.
During this process, the flesh turns blackish and a fine coating of sugar develops on the surface. The sugar is sometimes scraped from the surface of the dried fruit and compacted into molds to produce ornamental tablets or used as gifts.
The dried, flattened fruits,
which are known as ‘pressed persimmons’, are packed in boxes in Japan or stored on cords in China. In China, they are a particular favourite during their New Year celebrations.
Other relatives of the persimmon include the following:
Mabolo/Butter Fruit (D. blancoi)
is a native of the Philippines or Malaysia, and has been taken to other parts of South East Asia and the West Indies. It is relatively large, hairy, brown or purplish red fruit, with a white pulp and a pleasing flavour, despite a cheesey-like fragrance emitted from the skin.
Chapote/Black Persimmon/Mexican Persimmon (D. texense)
is native to America, especially Texas and Mexico. The fruit is small, hairy, and black, but sweet when ripe. It is of little merit as it leaves indelible black stains on everything it touches. It was used to dye sheepskin in the Rio Grande Valley.
Black Sapote, Zapote Begro (Philippines) (D. digyna)
is another black persimmon native to Mexico, but is no relation of the true sapote. The fruit is round, about the size of an orange, and ripens from a shiny green to a brownish green. The flesh is soft, dark brown, and mildly sweet.
Date Plum, Dattelpflaume (German), taateliluumu (Finnish), shinanogaki (Japanese) (Diospyros lotus – Family Ebenaceae)
is not a date or a plum, but closely linked to the American persimmon, but grows from the Mediterranean as far east as Japan. The fruit is cherry-sized and yellowish brown to blue-black in colour. The flavour bears some resemblance to dates and is simultaneously sweet and astringent, but pleasant.
American Persimmon, Virginian Date (Diospyros virginiana)
is not eaten very much, having been usurped by the kaki.
is a non-astringent variety of persimmon developed in the Sharon Valley of Israel. The fruit is seedless, has no core, and contains no tannins. It is less highly flavoured than other persimmons, but it can be enhanced with a splash of lemon. Sharon fruit can be eaten while still firm, and does not require peeling; but, otherwise, it is treated the same way as any persimmon.