Just before Thanksgiving, a good friend and colleague made his yearly visit to our office with crates full of beautiful persimmons. His trees were overflowing with fruit, and he couldn't bear to leave his bounty to the birds and squirrels. Up until a few years ago, when he started showing up with persimmons for everyone, many of us had never eaten one. So we thought we'd share the scoop on persimmons, which are good sources of vitamin C, beta carotene and potassium, and are fairly low in calories (70 per serving--about two-thirds of a persimmon). Persimmons first show up in the markets just as summer is ending, and are at their peak through December. Most of the varieties grown in the United States were imported from Japan in the late 1800s. Only two of the hundreds of varieties are actually of any commercial significance here: Hachiya, which accounts for about 90% of the commercial crop, and Fuyu, which has always been popular in Japan and is gaining market share elsewhere.
Hachiya persimmons are very astringent. Don't eat one before it's ripe, or you'll be in for an unpleasant surprise: They are intolerably bitter. The astringency comes from large quantities of tannins. Once Hachiya persimmons fully ripen and become soft, however, they are very sweet and spicy.
Fuyu persimmons are nonastringent and easier to use before they ripen. Both Hachiya and Fuyu persimmons are a bright orange, but the Hachiya variety is larger and acorn-shaped; Fuyus are smaller and flatter.
These fruits are very delicate and bruise easily. Both varieties should be glossy, well-rounded and free of cracks or bruises. Their color should be deep, and their leaves green and firmly attached.
Nutritionally speaking, the big story with persimmons is vitamin C. Just 3.5 ounces of a Hachiya persimmon (about two-thirds of a persimmon) contain 35 milligrams of vitamin C, more than 50% of the recommended daily allowance. The same amount of a Fuyu persimmon provides 218 mg of vitamin C, which is--are you ready?--more than 350 times the recommended daily allowance.
Fuyu persimmons can be eaten like apples, peeled or unpeeled, sliced, diced, added to salads, muffins and cereal. Cut the sepals off, and take a cone-shaped piece of flesh out of the stem end.
Hachiyas, on the other hand, are messy when ripe and are easier to handle if you cut them in half and scoop them out with a spoon. Just discard any seeds. The flesh will thicken when pureed in a blender and is delicious on cakes or poultry, in muffins, or in fruit mousse.
Dr. Sheldon Margen is a professor of public health at UC Berkeley; Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Send questions to Dale Ogar, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Eating Smart appears occasionally in Health.