Persimmons are well worth trying
not only for their exceptional flavour but also for their beta
carotene; they also have some vitamin C and potassium. There are
two types of persimmons: astringent and nonastringent. As novice
persimmon eaters often belatedly discover, the astringent persimmon
has two personalities. When ripe, it possesses a rich, sweet,
spicy flavour. The unripened fruit, however, tastes so bitter
that biting into it causes the mouth to pucker. The astringency
is due to the presence of tannins, a group of chemicals that occur
in tea, red wine, and in a few other fruits, such as peaches and
dates, before they ripen, though the quantity in a persimmon is
much greater. As the fruit ripens and softens, the tannins become
inert and the astringency disappears.
Persimmons are very susceptible to bruising and won't survive
careless handling. They reach their full colour while still hard,
and they are harvested and shipped in this hard, pre-ripe state.
Look for deeply coloured fruits, which should be reddish rather
than yellowish. Choose persimmons that are glossy, well-rounded,
and free of cracks or bruises, with their leaflike sepals still
green and firmly attached.
Though persimmons are shipped unripe, your
grocer may have some ripe ones to offer. Buy ripe fruits, if you
can find them, to eat immediately, and plan to ripen firmer ones
at home for later use. Ripe Hachiya persimmons should be completely
soft their thin skins virtually bursting with jellylike, juicy
flesh. (In this state of ripeness, they have been compared to
water balloons.) Fuyu persimmons, by contrast, are crisp.
For good eating, a very firm Fuyu persimmon may need to be put
aside for just a day or two. An unripe Hachiya, packed with mouth-puckering
tannins, will probably need more time to soften and lose its astringency.
There is still some controversy as to the best way to ripen these
fruits. You can leave persimmons at room temperature in a paper
bag along with an apple, which will produce additional ethylene
gas (to hasten the ripening), and turn the fruit occasionally
for even ripening. For Hachiya persimmons, however, the process
may take a number of weeks.
Another approach for Hachiya persimmons a modified
version of a technique Japanese shippers use incorporates two
ripening principles: When the oxygen supply is diminished, it
causes the persimmons to produce aldehydes (which counteract the
astringency of the tannins). And, when persimmons are exposed
to alcohol, it encourages the fruits to produce their own ethylene
gas. The kitchen adaptation of this technique is quite simple:
Stand the fruits in a plastic food storage container, place a
few drops of your favourite spirits (brandy or rum, for instance)
on each of the leaflike sepals, then cover the container tightly.
Fruit treated in this manner may ripen in less than a week. (Note:
As the fruits lose their astringency, they will also soften considerably,
so don't expect to be able to slice them.)
You can wash a Fuyu persimmon and eat it like an apple, either
whole or cut into slices or wedges. They are easy to peel with
a paring knife. Pull off the sepals before serving, or cut off
the stem end with a cone shaped "core" of flesh. The
thicker-skinned Hachiya can be messy to bite into, and is easier
to handle if halved lengthwise and eaten from the skin with a
spoon. Some Hachiya persimmons contain a few seeds, which are
easily removed. To scoop out Hachiya persimmons for mashing or
pureeing, halve the fruit and scoop out the pulp with a spoon,
discarding the stem, skin, and seeds, if any.