What’s that Food?

In December grocery store shelves are stocked with fresh citrus like mandarins and clementines and with plump pomegranates, but if you look closely, you will also find the persimmon.

Typically this fruit is about the size of an apple and is orange in colour, but there are varieties that are brown, black, or red in colour when ripe. Smooth on the exterior, the inside flesh of a persimmon is soft when ripe and has a creamy texture. It is important to make sure that your persimmon is ripe before eating, as an unripe one can have a very bitter taste, and have actually been known to cause digestive issues.

The fruit can be an astringent or non-astringent type. The astringent type contain very high levels of soluble tannins, making them unpalatable if eaten before completely softened. On a weird food fact, in regions where the fruit is grown there have been severe cases of phytobezoars (in essence a woody ‘foodball’) forming in people’s stomachs when the unripe fruit meets the person’s stomach acid. More than 85% of phytobezoars are caused by ingestion of unripened persimmons. This can easily be avoided by making sure your persimmon is ripe before you eat it and by not eating mass quantities of them. Ripen persimmons at room temperature in a paper bag with an apple or banana. When ripe, store them in the refrigerator.

The fruit was typically grown on trees in Asian countries like Japan, China, and Korea. Most persimmons that we see in our Canadian stores are of the Japanese variety, Kaki. Commercially, this is the variety most often grown, and it was introduced to parts of Europe and North America in the 1800s. There is a variety native to Texas and parts of Mexico, and its fruit is black or purple.

Persimmon can be eaten like an apple, its flesh scooped out and used in custards and puddings, or as a dried fruit. In Japan and Korea, dried persimmon leaves are sometimes steeped for tea. High in beta carotene and minerals like magnesium, calcium and iron, studies have also found that the fruit is high in dietary fibre.

Persimmon trees grow well in British Columbia, as Asian varieties are hardy to about -15°C to -18°C, and in the US, the persimmon is grown from Florida to Connecticut, across the midwest, south to Texas and west to California. In fact, US folklore uses persimmon seeds as a gauge for predicting the winter ahead. The folklore says that if you split open a seed from a local persimmon tree and the shape inside (called a cotyledon) looks like a fork, then the winter will be mild. If the space resembles a spoon, there will be a lot of snow or if it looks like a knife the winter will be bitingly cold and “cut like a knife.”

As we don’t have any seeds from PEI persimmon trees to test, we can’t make a prediction for this winter, but apparently, along the eastern seaboard, seeds are revealing ‘spoons’ in mass quantities. Let’s hope that folklore prediction is wrong!

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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