27 Jul 2013 06.19 am by K. Daniel
The other day as I browsed the fruit market for whatever bounty I could gather for the week, something caught my eye. On the sign it says sale, $ 5.99/kg, and on the basket, a cluster of orange coloured fruits with green tops, slightly reminiscent of tomatoes. These are persimmons. Sweet, crunchy, delicious, and a pretty good deal. Considering I've yet to eat them for a while, it was decided that I would gather a few to savour later.
As I continued to shop, I saw two other baskets selling more persimmons, although priced differently. I've noticed one was the same as the ones put on sale, slightly larger, having less blemishes and a more cleaner look if you will. This must be the more premium fruits I gathered, especially as each one was wrapped with thin green paper. The other basket was slightly different. Yes these were persimmons as well, but the shape seems off. It had a more heart-shape than the other flattened version that I had in my basket. The flesh was obviously softer, more like a ripe plum. I knew there were two varieties of persimmon which are usually sold, but I did note that these were the less common ones. I didn't think much of it until the next day.
The following morning, I was kicking myself for not buying them. Yes I had 4 (well now, 3, after I ate one soon after buying. It was gooood) persimmons ripening at room temperature, but I've always wondered how the other variety tasted. I'm a sucker for really sweet, juicy, soft fleshed fruits, and these seemed to fit the bill. The price, although more premium, seemed worth it. And so I swallowed my pride and came into the store that afternoon and got two.
That night, I planned on spooning yoghurt into a bowl and slicing the beautifully tender fruits for a late night snack. As I cut into it, it was obvious that the flesh is much softer than the flat ones I had. I halved the fruit, kept one half for another day and started peeling and slicing it into pieces. As I put one piece into my mouth, anticipating a gloriously sweet, juicy, persimmon flavour, BOOM! It was bitter. I was dismayed, but pride kept me pushing on. Piece after piece I ate had similar qualities to it. A slight bitterness in the back of the palate, a fuzzy, slightly prickly feeling on the tongue. The fruit itself was sweet, but the other aspects just nullified the pleasure.
In dismay I remembered that this particular variety of persimmon had a slightly different ripening quality to it. A quick research on the web confirmed my suspicions, the fruit that I ate was unripe. Yes it was soft, sweet, and quite juicy, all the qualities that make a fruit nice to eat, but alas this one was not. How so?
Persimmons have a wide range of distribution, mainly located within Asian regions such as Japan, Burma, China, and India but several lesser varieties exist in America. Marco Polo noted Chinese trade of the fruit around the 14th century and by the 1800s these Asian varieties were introduced to California and Southern Europe. Today it is grown all over the world, either commercially or by backyard growers although demand by the general public more limited, and in some areas mostly reserved for ethnic and farmers' market.
There are literally thousands of persimmon varieties, especially in Japan where the fruit is highly prized. Of these, the varieties are usually categorized into two main types, the Fuyu and the Hachiya.
Fuyu (non-astringent) persimmons are the ones you would most likely encounter. This tomato-like fruit is firm, solid, and crunchy. Some descriptions include apple-like with the sweetness of pear. Colour ranges from yellow-orange to dark orange, and the flesh is bright yellow-orange. Seeds only occur in cross pollinated plants, while most sold commercially tend to be seedless. Quality is assessed much like apples, when the fruit is still quite firm and slightly aromatic. Some people (like me) do allow their fruits to mature more and get slightly softer and sweeter.
Hachiya (astringent) persimmons is the variety that gave me a bittersweet experience, quite literally. More heart shaped than the former, the bitterness and prickly feeling on the tongue experienced is because of the presence of plant chemicals, tannins. These tannins are present in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, most notably in berries and grapes. Over time, as the fruit ripens the tannins degrade, which results in a sweet delicious fruit. This time is usually marked by when the skin of the Hachiya cracks and the flesh is soft and mushy. Some say that when the stem can be easily removed from the fruit it is ready to eat.
This should not be confused with degradation though, as rotting is caused by bacteria and fungi while ripening here is because of the presence of biochemical reactions and enzymes which naturally break down the fruit's flesh.
If only I found out this little bit of information earlier. Well, I still have the three other Fuyu's and one Hachiya which WILL be ripened for longer. I just have to figure out what to do with the half of Hachiya that I have sitting in the fridge. The astringency doesn't exactly gets diminished by cooking or drying.
- Botanically, persimmons are considered to be berries
- Cross pollinated varieties have a wide range of shapes and sizes, some have brown flesh while others are simply a larger version of the standard forms.
- Persimmons belong to the genus Diospyros which produce both edible and inedible fruits
- Diospyros comes from the Greek words Dios and Pyros which roughly translates to divine food or divine fruit.
- Peak season occurs in Fall.
- Persimmon seeds have been used as a coffee substitute.
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