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.