- Japanese Persimmon
- Oriental Persimmon
Persimmon is an edible fruit having an oval or round shape and golden yellow hue. This fruit is smooth textured, delectable and has its origin in Far East Asia. The sweet, appetizing flesh of this fruit is loaded with numerous nutrients like vitamins, essential minerals and antioxidants, which are necessary for our optimal health.
From the botanical point of view, persimmon is a member of family Ebenaceae belonging to the genus Diospyros. It is a delicate fruit having its origin in China. The fruit gradually spread from China to the Korean peninsula and Japan several centuries back and afterwards, sometime during the mid-19th century, it was introduced to California.
Persimmons are deciduous trees either having just one or several trunks and they may be found growing up to a height of 25 feet. These trees thrive well in places having moderate winters and relatively mild summers.
Broadly speaking, persimmon trees are categorized into two common groups – trees of one group produce astringent fruits when unripe, while those in the second group produce non-astringent fruits. The astringent persimmon cultivar is generally grown in Japan and is called Hachiya. This fruit contains elevated levels of tannins and should be allowed to ripen completely until its flesh has a jelly-like texture and is fit for consumption. On the other hand, the non-astringent persimmon cultivar has less tannin content and, as in the case of apples, can be consumed even when it is crispy. However, it is possible to remove the astringency by treating persimmon with either alcohol or carbon dioxide.
Persimmon trees bear copious fruits every season. However, the productivity of the trees differs from one cultivar to another. Even the shape of the fruits varies from being round to flatten to heart or akin to that of a squash. In addition, the size of the fruits also varies greatly – while some may be weighing just a few ounces, there are others that may weigh over a pound. The color of persimmon also varies from pale yellow-orange to deep orange-red. Apart from the seed and the calyx, the whole persimmon fruit is edible.
When a persimmon fruit is completely ripe, it is soft, extremely sweet as well as flavourful. The color of the fruit’s exterior varies from dark yellow to orange. As far as its appearance is concerned, persimmon fruits bear resemblance to ripened tomatoes. This fruit is mostly found as well as cultivated in South East Asia. However, currently a number of persimmon cultivars are also cultivated in the southern regions of Europe.
While the calorie content of persimmon is reasonably high, this fruit is very low in fat content. The flesh of persimmon has a smooth texture and is an excellent natural dietary fiber resource. Chemical analysis of persimmon fruit has revealed that every 100 grams of the freshly obtained fruit encloses 3.6 grams or 9.5 percent of our daily recommended intake (DRI) of soluble as well as insoluble dietary fiber.
Persimmon fruits enclose valuable flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants like gallocatechins and catechins. In addition, they also contain the vital anti-tumour chemical – betulinic acid. It has been found that catechins possess anti-inflammatory, anti-infective and anti-hemorrhagic properties. The anti-hemorrhagic qualities of catechins help to prevent blood loss from the small blood vessels.
Persimmons also enclose abundant amounts of other antioxidant compounds including beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, vitamin A, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. Collectively, these antioxidant compounds work to protect us from the harms caused by free radicals as well as the reactive oxygen species or ROS. Free radicals and ROS are known to be responsible for premature aging as well as a variety of diseases. The antioxidant compounds present in persimmons scavenge and neutralize the free radicals.
A vital dietary carotenoid, zeaxanthin is absorbed selectively into the retinal macula lutea in our eyes, where this antioxidant compound is believed to perform an antioxidant as well as protective light-filtering role. Thereby, zeaxanthin helps in putting off the development of age-related macular disease in aged people.
In addition to the antioxidants mentioned above, persimmons are also an excellent natural vitamin C resource, especially the fruits that are grown in native China as well as America. Vitamin C is a very potent antioxidant and persimonns provide us with about 80 percent of our daily recommended intake of this nutrient. Consuming foods rich in vitamin C content on a regular basis helps our body to reinforce its resistance against various infectious agents and, at the same time, scavenge the detrimental free radicals, which are said to be pro-inflammatory. Persimmons also contain adequate amounts of health benefiting B-complex vitamins, including vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, thiamine and others. Together, these vitamins serve as co-factors for several metabolic enzymatic utilities in our body.
Both fresh as well as dehydrated persimmons contain reasonable quantities of essential minerals like potassium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. Copper is a co-factor for several important enzymes, counting superoxide dismutase and cytochrome c-oxidase, while other minerals like zinc also serve as co-factors for superoxide dismutase. In addition, our body requires copper for producing red blood cells (erythrocytes). Manganese is also a co-factor for superoxide dismutase, an enzyme that is an extremely potent scavenger of free radicals.
When the retina inside our eyes is damaged, it results in loss of vision. In fact, free radicals produced owing to oxidization of specific types of molecules are responsible for retinal damage. Persimmons enclose numerous nutrients, including vitamins A, C and K, which are well known for their potent antioxidant attributes. It has been found that all these nutrients are particularly vital for protecting our eyes from retinal damages.
Zeaxanthin and lutein together with the vitamins mentioned above help to reduce as well as check the damages caused to our eyes by ultra-violet (UV) rays. In addition, they also protect our eyes from various types of infections. Aside from helping to protect as well as improve our vision, these vitamins are also effective in diminishing the wrinkles on the thin skin in the region of our eyes.
Persimmon fruits enclose nutrients that are very effective in protecting us from the harms caused by free radicals, which are responsible for several serious health conditions, including a number of cancer forms. Antioxidants and several phytonutrients help to combat these free radicals and avoid any damage to DNA. When some molecules are exposed to oxygen, it results in cellular damage. Subsequently, these damaged cells keep multiplying unnecessarily, thereby invading the healthy cells of our body. Eventually, the damaged cells destroy the healthy cells resulting in carcinogenic growths.
Free radical production is a very natural process in our body and antioxidants usually help the body to get rid of these harmful substances. Nevertheless, when there is a deficit of antioxidants in our body, it may result in unmanageable chain reactions that may prove to be hazardous and give rise to various ailments.
At the same time, persimmon contains copious amounts of the trace mineral potassium, which aids in maintaining optimum blood pressure throughout the body by means of dilating the blood vessels and also by unwinding the body’s muscles. Actually, several medications contain potassium in the form of an analgesic to alleviate pains induced by muscles.
When the blood pressure is consistent and healthy, it does not cause any unwarranted stress on the heart and allows this vital organ to function normally. This way, consumption of persimmons in moderate amounts helps to maintain the health as well as the functionality of our cardiovascular system. In addition, persimmon is also virtually fat-free and has an elevated water content, which helps to flush out the bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein) from the body, in addition to preventing its accumulation in the blood stream.
Aside from its several therapeutic applications, persimmon is also used for culinary purposes. Generally, people consume the ripened persimmon fruits raw. The dried out fruit is consumed in the form of a snack, in addition to making desserts. In a number of regions in Southeast Asia, people also use the leaf of this tree to prepare an herbal tea.
You can consumer persimmons in several different ways – fresh, dried as well as after cooking. You can cut the ripened raw fruit into quarters or consume it wholesome just like an apple. The texture of persimmon’s flesh varies from firm to squashy and it has a very sweet flavour.
In Japan, dried out persimmon fruits are called hoshigaki and they usually use it for making cakes, cookies, puddings, muffins, salads as well as in the form of a topping for breakfast cereal. Fruit pudding prepared from persimmon is a very popular dessert and is made using fresh fruits.
You can also enjoy dried persimmon fruits in the form of a snack or use them in desserts. In Korea, people extensively use dried persimmon fruits to prepare the customary spicy recipe locally known as sujeonggwa. On the other hand, they ferment the ripened fruit to make persimmon vinegar, which is locally known as “gamsikcho”.
Habitat and cultivation
Persimmon trees, especially those grown in inland areas, have a preference for complete sunlight along with good air movement. However, they possess the aptitude to endure some partial shade as well. If you are growing persimmons in colder regions, it is necessary to ensure that they receive full sunlight and also protect them from the cold winds. Persimmons are very attractive decorative trees that are apt for growing in landscaped gardens. However, this tree is unable to compete with eucalyptus well.
Persimmon trees possess the aptitude to tolerate a variety of conditions, provided the soil is not excessively saline. This species and its cultivars, however, grow best in free draining loam. Persimmons have a preference for a soil pH ranging from 6.5 to 7.5. Since this tree has a very robust tap root, you need to dig a relatively deeper hole while planting it.
Side effects and cautions
Despite the fact that persimmon fruits offer numerous health benefits, it is important to use them cautiously, as they contain very high levels of tannin, which is basically a risk factor. High amounts of tannins can not only prove to be counter-nutritional, but also have a toxic impact on our body. Hence, it is advisable that you should stay away from consuming unripe persimmon fruits, especially because they enclose elevated amounts of tannins that may leave a very dry feeling in the mouth. At the same time, your mouth may become numb for a while after consuming unripe persimmon.
Similarly, eating this fruit in excess or on an empty stomach may result in diarrhea. Therefore, it is always safe to consume persimmon fruits after having some food and also in moderate amounts. People with diabetes should also consume persimmon in moderate amounts, since this fruit encloses very high levels of sugar and, therefore, has the potential to raise the glucose levels in the blood stream.
Collection and harvesting
The astringent variety of persimmons should only be harvested when they are still hard, but completely colored. If left on the trees, these fruits will become softer and their quality too will improve. However, you are likely to lose several of them to birds, which will eat or destroy them. On the contrary, if you store the astringent persimmons at room temperature for some time, they will ripen naturally. You can harvest the non-astringent persimmons when their color has changed completely. However, in order to get the optimum flavour, it is advisable that you let them soften somewhat after harvesting.
Both varieties of persimmons – astringent and non-astringent, should be harvested by cutting them from the trees using hand-held pruning shears. While cutting the fruits, ensure that you leave the calyx undamaged. You should cut the stems of the fruits as close as possible, provided they are not meant for drying as a whole. While the fruit may still be hard at the time of harvesting, they become bruised very easily. Therefore, it is advised that you handle them very carefully.
When stored in the refrigerator, mature and hard astringent persimmons will remain viable for no less than a month. You can also freeze the fruits and frozen persimmons will last for anything between 6 months and 8 months. On the other hand, the non-astringent variety of persimmon can be stored for a lesser period when kept at room temperature. If you keep this persimmon variety along with other fruits in the refrigerator, they will become softer.
Aside from consuming ripened persimmons raw, they also make wonderful dried fruits. You can peel the fruit and dry it as a whole or cut the peeled or unpeeled fruit into small slices and dry them. If you peel and dry astringent persimmons, they will lose their astringency and have a sweet flavour along with a consistency similar to dates.