CULTURE Food

Persimmon – Part 1

The yellow, orange, and purple colors of Persimmon leaves brighten up the grey autumn days. Then the leaves fall off, and the unripe fruits are as festive as Christmas decorations. 

Persimmon tree in Fall.

Persimmon fruit was part of my childhood when I still only knew the soft and sweet variety. Every time my mother bought persimmons, my brother and I were so happy! We tasted this delicious fruit with a spoon and a knife, enjoying the special moment. We also used to go to the herbal shop from my town and buy dried persimmon. Delicious as well!

Then, I got to know another variety, with firm flesh when ripe, and discovered that what I thought was an Italian fruit was actually from Asia!

This is the first post of a mini-series of two, where I want to share with you amazing facts about the persimmon tree and its fruit, from the description of the plant to its origin.

  • Description
  • Origin
  • Culture

The second post will be discussing the incredibly wide variety of possible uses of persimmon, learning how sharing traditions and uses help connecting us, even from a far distance.

Description

Persimmon is a fruit tree, growing up to more than 10 meters in height. It is a dicotyledonous angiosperm, belonging to Ebenaceae botanic family, as the ebony. I produces edible berries, as big as an apple. At the adult stage, it can produce very large harvests, even 150 kg for a single tree!

In Italian and French, it is called kaki, from the Japanese pronounced “kaki“.

The scientific name of persimmon is Diospyros kaki L., where Diospyros comes from the Greek Διός, Diòs,  Zeus and πυρός, pyròs, wheat, literally “Zeus wheat”, meaning Zeus food or food of the gods.

Despite the great biodiversity of the cultivars, they can be divided into two major groups: those that can be eaten only when they become soft, otherwise they are astringent because of their high tannin content, and those that can be eaten when they are still firm.

The astringency is due to high tannin levels, which are reduced as the fruit matures.

Two common varieties of persimmon are Hachiya and Fuyu; they differ somewhat in aspect but have unique textures and flavors.

>>Astringent cultivars

Among the astringent cultivars there are Hongsi, Hachiya, and Fuji. It is important to be patient to eat these persimmon varieties, to avoid the unpleasant sensation in the mouth. Before maturation, they are not edible because of their high content in tannins. At maturity, they are soft and sweet and can be eaten with a small spoon.

>> Non astringent cultivars

Non astringent cultivars, are those whose fruit can be eaten firm, include Fuyu, Dan gam, Hanagosho, Izu, and other cultivars. These varieties are the most appreciated in Asia.

Flower

Female persimmon flower

Persimmon trees can be monoecious, with unisexual male or female flowers on the same plant, or dioecious, with plants having only male or female flowers. In general, the male flowers are very small and not very visible and are found in inflorescences of three. The flowering season begins in late Spring, between May and June.

Fruit

The fruit of the persimmon tree is a large berry similar in size to an apple, orange in color when ripe. It can be produced either by fertilization or by parthenocarpy, that is with pollination of the flower or even without pollination.

Berry = small, pulpy, and often edible fruit, derived from a pluricarpellar ovary.

Partenocarpy = fruit production without fertilization, making the fruit seedless.

What time of the year do you pick persimmons?

Persimmon harvest season takes place in Autumn, usually between October and November. The fruits are rarely picked when fully ripe on the branch. They are picked when they start to turn yellow.

Persimmon is a climacteric fruit. This means that etylene, a plant hormon, stimulates its maturation. Etylene is released naturally by fruits such as apples, apricot, banana, kiwifruit, and tomato.

Tips

·      To accelerate the ripening process: put the persimmons in paper bag with apples.

·      To slow the ripening process: put the persimmons in the fridge to slow ripening, .

Leaves

Persimmon leaves in Summer

Persimmon is a deciduous plant, that is, it loses its leaves during fall. From the beautiful green color in summer, to the yellow, orange, and purple color in autumn, persimmon leaves completely change the appearance of the plant during the year.

Persimmon leaves in Fall

Once fallen from the tree, you can leave the leaves on the ground, to nourish the plant and, at the same time, regenerate the soil. 

Origin

According to scientific research based on the evidence of existing ancient trees, historic literature records, decorative objects, and archaeological findings, Persimmon appeared for more than ten thousand years in China and was domesticated since the Qin dynasty and Han dynasty dating from BC 221 to AC 220 (Wang et al., 2013).

Persimmons were an important food source in China, Korea, and Japan from prehistoric times. These countries, together with China, are still among the world’s leading producers. Currently, it is one of the most important fruit crops in Asian countries, where 85% of world production is grown, followed by 11.5% in Europe, 3.3% in the Americas, and 0.1 % in Oceania (FAO FAOSTAT Database, 2018). 

According to scientific research based on the evidence of existing ancient trees, historic literature records, decorative objects, and archaeological findings, Persimmon appeared for more than ten thousand years in China and was domesticated since the Qin dynasty and Han dynasty dating from BC 221 to AC 220 (Wang et al., 2013).

Persimmons were an important food source in China, Korea, and Japan from prehistoric times. These countries, together with China, are still among the world’s leading producers. Currently, it is one of the most important fruit crops in Asian countries, where 85% of world production is grown, followed by 11.5% in Europe, 3.3% in the Americas, and 0.1 % in Oceania (FAO FAOSTAT Database, 2018). 

The Europeans were introduced to this fruit in the 17th century by the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, following his stay in China.  The plant arrived in Europe in the 16th century as an ornamental plant. In Italy, the first kaki tree was planted in the Boboli garden in Florence in 1870.

Culture

China

In Chinese culture, persimmon is a symbol of good luck. They are mainly eaten dry, especially during the Spring Festival, which occurs in winter. Since the Chinese character 柿 Shì, contained in the word 柿子 Shìzi meaning persimmon, is a homophone to the word 事 Shì, meaning thing and affair, the word persimmon replaces the word thing, affair in New Year wishes:
万事如意 becomes 万柿如意
好事连连 becomes 万柿连连
Also, during the Spring Festival, Chinese people use to offer persimmons as a gift, together with apples, called 苹果 Píngguǒ,which also have homophony with the word Chinese word for harmony 和平Hépíng, meaning peace and harmony.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, persimmon is considered a kind of yin food, which is considered to have cool energy. According to the principles of Traditional Chinese medicine, “yin” food is used to balance “hot” body conditions, such as in case of hypertension, atherosclerosis, and hemorrhoids, aiming at expelling pathogenic heat.

Inversely, TCM recommends avoiding eating persimmons when the body needs heat, such as after childbirth.

Well continue discussing about the uses of persimmon in Part 2 of this post.

Meanwhile, you can share your experience with on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and of cours on this website. Until then, take care and enjoy the season!

Bibliography

Frederick J. Simoons, Food in China : A Cultural and Historical Inquiry, CRC Press, 12 novembre 1990, 600 p. 

R. Wang et al., INDUSTRY HISTORY AND CULTURE OF PERSIMMON (DIOSPYROS KAKI THUNB.) IN CHINA

K. Yonemori, et al., Relationship of European persimmon (Diospyros kaki Thunb.) cultivars to Asian cultivars, characterized using AFLPs, Genet Resour Crop Evol (2008) 55:81–89

Bellini E, Bellini C, Giordani E, Perria R, Paffetti D (2003) Genetic and morphological relationships between possible Italian and ancestral cultivars of persimmon. Acta Hort 601:192–197

Bellini E, Giordani E (2005) Germplasm and breeding of persimmon in Europe. In: Park YM, Kang SM (eds) Proceedings of 3rd International Symposium on Persimmon. Acta Hort 685:65–75

About Valentina

Hi, I’m Valentina. I’m a communication strategy consultant and culture bridge. Passionate about plant-based food, I share inspiration from the cultures I know best: Italian, French and Chinese ones.