Persimmons, sometimes called the "fruit of the gods," are prized for their bright color and sweet flavor. The cold weather fruit is popular in China and Japan, with China growing the vast majority of commercial crops. They are often dried and eaten year-round, especially during Lunar New Year. With several varieties grown, the fruit is divided into two main groups: astringent and non-astringent. Both types of persimmons can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dried.
What Are Persimmons?
Persimmons are light to dark orange fruits with a tomato-like stem that grow on trees and are harvested beginning in the late fall. While a native persimmon grows in parts of the United States, the most commonly found persimmons are Asian varieties. Fuyu, a squat, rounded persimmon that resembles an orange tomato, is the most common. The second most popular in America is Hachiya, an acorn-shaped fruit that's dark orange when ripe. Both have an edible peel that is sometimes removed, and bright orange flesh within. Because of their short season and limited availability in the U.S., fresh persimmons tend to be expensive.
The two main varieties of commercially available persimmons are Fuyu and Hachiya. Fuyu persimmons are distinguished by their flat bottoms and squat shape. Fuyus tend to be lighter orange and are at their best when a bit soft — they get sweeter as they ripen, but are edible at any time.
Hachiya persimmons are elongated and oval-shaped. They are an astringent variety that is very tart unless truly, absolutely ripe. Like Fuyu persimmons, they will ripen once picked, so let them soften on the kitchen counter until ready to use.
Hachiya are also used to make hoshigaki, Japanese dried persimmons. Hoshigaki are dried persimmons that have been hung to dry and then massaged to bring their sugars to the outside, making them look frosted. They are intensely sweet and a bit chewy.
American persimmon trees are native to the Eastern U.S. and are eaten fresh or used in baked goods. They are astringent until ripe and are not typically commercially available.
How to Cook With Persimmons
Wash persimmons just before using. Prepare Fuyus by hulling them (cutting out their tops and the tougher attached flesh beneath the stem) and slicing. The peel can be eaten or removed if desired. Discard any large black seeds as you encounter them.
Ripe Hachiya persimmons are so tender that they can be eaten with a spoon. Remove the stem and any tough flesh attached. Use a spoon to scoop the flesh out of the peel and enjoy.
Fuyu persimmons can also be poached, roasted, baked, broiled, grilled, or dried. Their mild flavor makes them a welcome addition to sweet and savory recipes. Hachiyas are often added to baked goods since the flesh is so tender when ripe that they cannot be easily sliced.
What Do Persimmons Taste Like?
When ripe, persimmons have a mild flavor similar to pumpkin but with added fruity sweetness. Unripe Fuyus are less sweet and slightly tart, with a crisp texture. Hachiya persimmons tend to have a stronger flavor, but must be eaten when completely ripe or they are extremely astringent. Dried persimmons, like most dried fruit, are very sweet.
Fuyu persimmons are frequently sliced (slightly unripe or ripe) and added to salads for a fruity, not-too-sweet addition. The fruit can also be poached, roasted with meat or on its own, or dried in slices. Ripe, diced fruit can be added to salsas or chutneys.
Ripe Hachiya persimmons are eaten as-is or, because the flesh is so tender, puréed and mashed. Add to ice cream, baked goods like cakes, puddings, and bread, or use to make jam.
Where to Buy Persimmons
Persimmons are in season during the late fall and winter and aren't typically sold year-round. Look for fresh persimmons from October to January at grocery stores, specialty markets, Asian grocers, and farmers' markets. The fruit is typically sold by the pound or by the case, and because of the short season, they tend to be more expensive than your typical apple or banana.
Choose fruit that feels heavy, firm, and is free of soft spots. Symmetrical persimmons are best since the lop-sided ones can contain large seeds. Little black dots are okay—they're caused by the sun and don't affect the taste.
Asian persimmon trees require very little maintenance once established and should be pruned minimally once fruiting. Pick fruit when it is heavy and bright in color. The trick is keeping it away from hungry critters, who also love the fruit.
How to Store Persimmons
Fuyu persimmons are often sold ripe and should be stored in the crisper drawer of the fridge. If they're not quite soft enough, let them sit on the counter until ripe before storing in the fridge. They can last for a couple of weeks if kept dry, whole, and cold. Hachiyas typically need time to ripen, and should be stored on the countertop at room temperature until perfectly soft. To speed up the process, place the persimmons in a paper bag with a banana. Ripe Hachiyas can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Sliced persimmons should be eaten as soon as possible, and cooked fruit will keep in a container in the fridge for up to three days. Ripe persimmon purée can be frozen for later use. Store in an airtight bag or container and use within three months.