Prized in Asia, the persimmon, shaped like a large tomato and with a silky, slippery texture, has a very unique flavour. The ripe fruit has a high glucose content and is sweet in taste. Described as the love child of a mango and a roasted sweet pepper, with hints of cinnamon in the background, persimmons are rich, tangy and sweet, all at the same time.
The high tannin content of the persimmon makes it very astringent when unripe, so picking perfectly ripe fruit is key.
The most widely cultivated variety is the Oriental or Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki which is Latin and translates to ‘fruit of the gods’), and in strict botanical terms persimmon is in fact a berry!
In Korean folklore, dried persimmon is said to scare away tigers! In Japan, persimmons are turned into the popular sweet, hoshigaki, which is made by peeling the ripe fruit, hanging it carefully from a pole, and gently massaging it every day so that its juices evaporate and the sugars are drawn out to coat the exterior. The result is sweet, dense and slightly chewy—the Kobe beef of dried fruit.
Persimmons are available May to July, making them a great addition to your winter menu when you are looking for a pop of colour and sweetness in both savoury and sweet dishes.
On New Zealand restaurant and cafe menus, persimmon’s magic might just be the variety it offers to our usual sweet flavour profiles but in America persimmon is very common in baking; think muffins, cakes, breads and pies. Their soft pulp makes an easy puree to be added to baking batters adding both sweetness and moisture. Persimmon puree is also great for both colour and flavour at breakfast, either layered in chia pudding or spooned over oats or pancakes. Add it to smoothies or freeze for a simple sorbet.
Persimmon has just as many uses in savoury dishes. A slice of persimmon wrapped in prosciutto is the perfect substitute to the traditional rock melon in winter months. Toss in a salad with bitter leaves to balance the sweetness, and bake with pork or chicken as you would quince.
There are two main varieties of persimmon available: the Fuyu and Hachiya. Fuyu is the most commonly found variant in New Zealand, with their season falling between April and May. The Fuyu variety loses its tannins and thus astringent flavour more quickly than the Hachiya, hence its popularity.
Fuyus – A squat, tomato-shaped persimmon with a deep orange colour that can be enjoyed when still firm.
Hachiya – A heart-shaped, pale persimmon; make sure to use when perfectly ripe!
Unlike most fruit, persimmons keep longer if they are at room temperature (15°C to 25°C).
Persimmons kept in a fridge will go soft more quickly than if left at room temperature. This also makes them a great fruit to display on your counter or pass.
In the North Island, the main areas are Gisborne (about 28% by area), then Auckland (20%) each followed by Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and the Hawke’s Bay.