When autumn is right on the edge of dipping into winter, when most trees are bare of leaves, that's when you'll find ripe persimmons, hanging from their trees like bright orange ornaments.
While there is an edible American persimmon that grows wild in the eastern half of the country, the most common types of persimmons you'll find at the market are two Japanese varietals—Fuyu and Hachiya. If you plan on eating any of them it is crucially important to know how to tell them apart!
A persimmon is an edible fruit (a berry, specifically) that grows on a variety of trees in the genus Diospyros. The tree is part of the ebony family.
Fuyu persimmons are short and squat, and are shaped much like tomatoes. When they are orange, they're ripe, and can be eaten like an apple.
You don't have to peel them, but I do. Just cut out the crown, peel them or not, and cut into wedges to eat. Once in a while you may find a dime-sized brown seed, just remove.
During my many trips to Japan I have often been served Fuyu persimmons this time of year. Always, they were presented this way, already peeled and sliced.
Storage and Uses for Fuyu Persimmons
- Fuyu persimmons can be used in salads, like this pomegranate persimmon salad, added to breakfast cereal, or frozen to use in smoothies. You can bake with them too, as you would apples.
- Fuyu persimmons will keep for months if stored in a dry, dark, cool place. If set on a counter to ripen, eventually they will soften a bit. At this point you can purée the fruit and use it for recipes that call for persimmon purée.
Hachiya persimmons tend to be a little larger than Fuyu and are more acorn shaped.
The main difference between Hachiya persimmons and Fuyus is that Hachiyas are extremely astringent until they are completely soft and ripe.
If you bite into a hard, unripe Hachiya, you'll never forget it! Talk about mouth puckering.
When a Hachiya is ripe, it's wonderfully sweet.
How to Ripen Hachiya Persimmons
To ripen a Hachiya persimmon, just leave it out on the counter and wait. (You can speed up the ripening process by putting the persimmon in a bag with a ripe banana.) Eventually the persimmon will get so ripe you can squeeze it like an over-ripe tomato.
When you break into a ripe hachiya, the flesh is soft and pudding-like. Just scoop it out with a spoon. You can eat it straight like that, or save the pulp for baking.
You can freeze the pulp for cooking with later. (I like to measure out the pulp in amounts that I know I'm going to want to use, like 1/2 cup or 1 cup measures.
Uses for Hachiya Persimmon
The sweet ripe pulp of Hachiya persimmons is used for making dishes like persimmon cookies or persimmon pudding cake.
How to Tell Fuyus and Hachiyas Apart
The one you can eat like an apple—Fuyu—is short, squat, and firm. The persimmon you have to ripen until it is squishy, and then you eat or use the pulp—Hachiya—looks like a large orange acorn.
American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) grow both wild and cultivated in the eastern half of America. The fruits are much smaller than either fuyus or hachiyas, ranging from the size of a small date to the size of an apricot.
Like Hachiya persimmons, American persimmons need to be very soft before you can eat them. However, they will not ripen off of the tree. You must wait until they are soft to harvest them. Sometimes they fall from the tree on their own accord and you can gather them from the ground. Their flavor can be date-like, or somewhat reminiscent of an apricot, but with more tannins. Most often they are used in baked puddings or in cookies and breads. Any recipe calling for Hachiya persimmons will work for American persimmons, but do note that American persimmon pulp will be more dense.
There's no need to peel American persimmons, but they do often have large black seeds you'll want to remove before using them in recipes. You can either run their thick, sticky pulp through a food mill (messy) or remove the seeds by hand. Puree the pulp if you like, but leaving it chunky can add some pleasing texture to baked goods.
Fun fact about the American persimmon: Its seeds were used as buttons during the Civil War.
Health Benefits of Persimmons
Persimmons are full of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. They're rich in vitamin A precursor beta-carotene (no surprises there given their bright orange color), vitamin C, and potassium. Because of this, eating persimmons can help you maintain a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation, neutralize cancer-causing free-radicals, and lower blood pressure.