This is a guest post by nutrition student Elisabeth Daniels. I was fortunate to have lived in the neighborhood for most of my life. Every fall, I’d notice the tree in front of the house around the corner come alive with these strange, orange tomatoes. Fast forward many (many) years and I finally discovered the identity of these tree-growing tomatoes. Persimmons!
Popular persimmon varieties are native to China, but they are found throughout Asia as well. In China there are 2,000 cultivars of persimmon, about 50 of which were brought to the U.S. The two most common cultivars here are Fuyu and Hachiya.
Fuyu persimmons are the tree tomatoes – pale orange and round with a flat, leafy top. They are edible when firm and yield a delicate sweetness with a subtle, nutty aftertaste. Hachiya persimmons are bright, red-orange, acorn-shaped fruits that must be over-ripe before they can be eaten. Unripe Hachiya peel and pulp are rife with tannins, making them very astringent and highly unpalatable. Ripe Hachiyas are fragrant, sweet, and well worth the wait.
Health Benefits of Persimmons
Persimmons are an excellent source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are important for scavenging free radicals that cause cellular damage. Free radical damage has long been associated with degenerative diseases of aging like heart disease. The main groups of antioxidants in persimmons include carotenoids, tannins, and polyphenols. Carotenoids are the compounds in plants responsible for red, yellow, and orange pigmentation. Those found in persimmons include beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, beta carotene, alpha carotene, lycopene, and lutein.
Persimmons – especially ripe fruits – are highest in beta-cryptoxanthin, beta-carotene, and alpha-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A in the body.
Tannins are responsible for the astringency of unripe fruits and are typically found in the peels, even after ripening. Polyphenols are typically associated with red wines and green teas and may provide additional cardiovascular benefits. Persimmons are also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and soluble fiber.
The leaves have been used as a tea and purported to have antioxidant properties. The roots have also been shown to have antimicrobial properties. Research conducted on persimmons over the past two decades has shown that regular consumption may slow the effects of aging and improve lipid metabolism in alcohol-induced fatty liver, primarily because of the high antioxidant profile. Research has also indicated that persimmons may be beneficial in reducing cholesterol levels.
Can a persimmon a day keep the statins at bay? Maybe. Studies conducted in the late 90’s showed that daily persimmon intake for four weeks reduced total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and serum triglycerides and increased HDL-cholesterol levels. They also showed that persimmon intake reduced lipid peroxidation (i.e., free radical damage) when combined with a high cholesterol diet. A more recent study showed that Fuyus were the most beneficial to cholesterol and triglyceride levels when compared with another cultivar.
While these findings are great, it’s important to note that the studies were conducted on animal models whose feed was supplemented with 5-7% of their energy intake from dried persimmons. For someone eating about 2000 calories a day, that's 3 persimmons a day, which may be more than you would normally eat daily. Consider your personal health goals and needs!
Persimmons are great raw, cooked, and blended. They can also be dried and stored for up to 6 months. They are substantial fruits and hold their own well in many dishes, including sweets like cakes, cookies, puddings, ice cream, and frozen yogurt.
Fuyus are great in salads, especially with kale. They can also be halved, grilled, and drizzled with honey for a simple dessert. Soft, ripe, Hachiyas are great in smoothies or cooked into persimmon butter (recipe below). When using, make sure to remove the peel and seeds first, in any variety you use.
Persimmons grow during the fall and winter - from September through January in most temperate regions. Store persimmons at room temperature until ripe. Hachiyas must be thoroughly ripened before use, so feel free to leave them out for over a week. Store ripened persimmons in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Spiced Persimmon Butter Recipe
Makes 2 cups
Persimmons don’t last long in my household, but in the off chance they do, I always make a small batch of persimmon butter. Persimmons hold there own well with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. In fact, this butter is so hearty it can be used as a pie filling. If using ripe Hachiyas, added sweeteners are optional.
- 1 lb. persimmons, sliced, peeled and seeded
- ½ cup coconut sugar (or substitute your preferred sweetener, although amounts will vary)
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup lemon juice (about 1 small lemon)
- 1 tsp. cinnamon powder
- ½ tsp. cardamom, ground
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract (substitute 1 vanilla bean)
Combine the persimmons, sugar, and water into a non-reactive pot. Heat on low and stir until combined. Add lemon juice, spices, and vanilla extract and then stir.
Allow contents to simmer until thickened, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and let cool. Mash larger pieces of persimmon with a potato masher, or use an immersion blender to make a smooth consistency. Pour ingredients into a clean, sterilized mason jar.
Note from Lauren: I tried out this lovely anti-inflammatory smoothie with persimmon, orange, turmeric, and more.