Let me tell you about persimmon, one of the underrated fruits
By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
Last month, I tasted my first persimmons for this year. It is an autumn fruit, usually in October till December-January. As I expected, these came from Sagada- the biggest producer of persimmons in the Philippines at present, I think. It’s not popular, though, perhaps because it’s only grown in the Cordillera and shelf-life is short, although there are now imported ones from China (Where else? China is the biggest producer in the world.) So if you haven’t tasted one yet, “you are missing a marvelous fruit” says newswriter Philip Chua.
Did you know that persimmon (or persimon) is the national fruit of Japan? It is an edible fruit of a variety of trees belonging to the genus Diospyros, an ancient Greek-derived word interpreted as “fruit of the gods” or “divine fruit”. The most popular variety is the Asian or Japanese persimmon, Diospyros kaki, thus it is more popularly called “kaki”. I remember that long time ago when the public didn’t know persimmon yet, the Baguio market labeled it “kaki” as that seemed to be its more popular name.
A fruit is not a national fruit for nothing. Asians have been eating this fruit year in year out, bringing sunshine during these cool “ber” months to our homes and yards with its bright red-orange glossy color. This persimmon is packed with powerful nutrients to help keep our bodies strong and vibrant. Its rich red-orange color will tell us that it is rich in Vitamin A, an antioxidant and good for the eyes and skin. It contains a lot of other vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and B, copper, manganese and potassium. These make it a power fruit- boosting our immunity, retarding cell degeneration and helping to keep our bodies in a healthy state.
It contains fiber also. Fiber is the important cleanser of our bodies. It is necessary for regular bowel movement. It slows down sugar absorption from the intestines thus helps control your blood sugar, and lowers bad cholesterol. Moreover, it supports the good bacteria in the intestines which are important for gut health. Gut health is, in turn, important for overall health. (more of this in later issues.)
In general, there are two types of persimmon – astringent and non-astringent. The most common variety of the astringent type is the heart-shaped Hachiya (what we have in Mountain Province). Unripe Hachiya persimmon is the only fruit I know that has this astringent taste – like a mouthful of chalk with a little baking soda ( bitter taste). It needs to be fully ripened to bring out its sweet, honey-like taste- it becomes soft and mushy and the color turns a glazed red-orange, looking so yummy! It could be messy to eat with the hands. How to eat the ripe one? Remove the calyx, break the fruit in half and eat from inside out. Or just eat with the onion-like skin. Or scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Or freeze it then imagine it to be persimmon sorbet. You can also make it into smoothies, pies, puddings, jellies. I have read that the seeds can be roasted as coffee extender or substitute!
Because this fruit does not all ripen at once, techniques have been discovered to hasten the ripening of the astringent variety. When we were kids, Dad would peel and slice the unripe persimmon and slice them thinly, removing the seeds. These were then arranged in a “luwa” (flat woven rattan basket) and sundried for a few days- yummy! Some dry the fruit whole and looks like a big prune. The easiest process, however, is this to intoxicate it and this is preferred if you want to bring your product to the market. The unripe fruit is treated with alcohol to remove the chalk-like taste and yet retain the apple-like crunchy texture. We call it “nabuteng ay persimmon” (drunk persimmon). How? The calyx is soaked in gin and stacked in an air tight container for about 3-5 days (or depending on the room temperature) and the chalky taste is gone! The fruit is crispy like an apple so it’s not messy to eat. Just test one first and if it’s still chalky, then cure it for some more days. It’s like magic! The one who discovered this technique is a genius! I was informed that a Japanese taught this to an Igorot. Again, you can eat this with or without the skin.
The non-astringent variety, the fuyu persimmon, can be eaten even while still unripe, no need to treat with gin. It looks like an orange tomato and it rarely has seeds. I still have to see it grown here so what we have being sold in the market is imported.
There! Persimmons are eaten fresh, dried, “drunk”, raw or cooked. They can be fermented into wine or vinegar. What more, I have read that the young leaves can be air-dried for about 2-3 days then boiled as tea. Wow, persimmon tea! Sounds great. How versatile persimmon could be!
This tree is very generous, too, overflowing with fruits, so it can be a seasonal source of income. Don’t eat the fruits all by yourself, that would be too much. Although it is rich in nutrients, persimmon also has sugar (fructose), just like other fruits. If you don’t know yet, too much sugar is not healthy. That’s why God gave persimmon to us only once a year.
It is low maintenance and easily grows in our highlands but wait! We should also not exchange our forest trees with fruit trees. (We have a lot of fruits already.) I also love how this tree changes with the seasons. The leaves turn rich yellow then orange by November and December then finally dropping. All leaves would then have dropped off by January leaving the orange fruits and the bare branches- it’s a pretty sight which never ceases to amaze me, especially on a clear day with blue skies. When the birds have finished the remaining fruits, the tree looks dead- a winter scene. New leaves will then magically appear by March-April and a new cycle begins. Persimmon, anyone?***
“Let the fig tree teach you a lesson. When its branches become green and tender and starts putting out leaves, you know that summer is near.” Matthew 24: