Sweet persimmon earns its ‘fruit of the gods’ nickname
’Tis the season for fresh persimmons.
The most famous varieties are the acorn-shaped hachiya with the pointed end and the squat, tomato-shaped fuyu or Sharon fruit.
With shiny orange skin that’s baby-bottom smooth, both varieties glow from supermarket displays.
But the similarities end there.
While you can munch a firm fuyu like an apple, bite into a firm hachiya and the tannins in its flesh will coat your mouth with a horrible dryness no amount of water can remove.
Just ask my neighbour, who still hasn’t forgiven me for using her as a guinea pig.
To discover why the hachiya is the world’s most popular persimmon, and the national fruit of Japan, wait a week or two until it turns a deep orangey-red and looks ready to collapse in a gelatinous puddle.
Only then can you appreciate its lusciously sweet, creamy taste, probably with a spoon.
While this persnickety persimmon rests on its centuries-old laurels, there’s a new generation of ready-to-eat hachiya cousins with hints of vanilla, chocolate, pumpkin, even cinnamon eager to snatch its crown.
Spain’s vanilla persimmon looks like a pale, slightly overweight hachiya and tastes like a yummy mouthful of brown sugar.
To ensure you’re getting the right one — and supermarkets are not making this easy — look for #669220 on the vanilla’s PLU (price lookup) sticker.
The hachiya wears PLU #4427 in international circles, and the fuyu sports #4428.
The buttery new Percinnamon (also #4427) from Kingsburg Orchards in California has a rusty orange skin, speckled flesh and a sweet cinnamon note when you bite into it.
I found them at a small fruit and vegetable store on the Danforth, and we should see more of them in coming years, says Dan Spain, Kingsburg’s VP sales and marketing.
While they’re in season, pick up a hachiya, fuyu, vanilla or Percinnamon and decide if they merit their Latin name — fruit of the gods.
Buy & Store
- Persimmons began arriving in Toronto in late September from Spain, California, Israel and South Korea. They are available through the holidays. Loblaw’s senior category manager for produce, Gerry Amodeo, says he expects an abundant supply of Spanish vanilla persimmons from now until January.
- Choose plump, brightly-coloured fruit with taut, glossy skin. Avoid fruit with soft spots or bruises.
- For a sweeter flavour, leave firm fuyu or vanilla persimmons at room temperature for a few days.
- Refrigerate soft, ripe persimmons until ready to eat.
- Hachiyas are picked unripe because the ripe fruit is so fragile. To speed up ripening, place in a loosely sealed paper bag with a banana or apple, which produces extra ethylene.
- Persimmons are fat-free and a good source of fibre and vitamins A and C.
- Fuyu: Pull off the fuyu persimmon’s papery calyx, rinse and eat like an apple. Peeling is optional.
- Slice for beautiful circles or cut into wedges and use in salad, fruit crisp or salsa.
- The Korean fuyus I bought last year had a big brown seed in each wedge. It tasted good but wasn’t as pretty in salads.
- Dried fuyu persimmons are a popular treat for Chinese New Year. Dehydrate your own thin slices to eat as a snack or add to trail mix.
- Hachiya: Cut a super-ripe hachiya in half lengthwise, remove and discard any seeds then scoop out flesh with a spoon.
- Puréed hachiya is delicious in steamed puddings, muffins, cakes, ice cream, sauce, smoothies and quickbreads.
- For an instant sorbet, popular in Italy, freeze a ripe hachiya (unwrapped), cut off the top and scoop the semifrozen pulp out of the skin.
Fuyu Salad with Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette
7 fuyu persimmons (2 lb/1 kg)
2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh lime juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) walnut oil
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cumin
1/4 tsp (1 mL) chili flakes or to taste (optional)
1/4 tsp (1 mL) sea salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) pomegranate seeds (arils)
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped cilantro
Cut off the papery calyxes and slice each persimmon in 10 to 12 wedges.
In small jar, combine lime juice, walnut oil, cumin, chili flakes (if using), and salt. Cover tightly and shake hard to mix well.
In large bowl, combine persimmon wedges and dressing and toss to coat well. Transfer salad to a pretty serving dish and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, walnuts and cilantro. Taste and add more salt or lime juice if necessary.
Makes 8 servings.
First published in the Toronto Star Nov. 28, 2013