Most people have no idea what to do with persimmons. They resemble tomatoes somewhat, but its actually a berry. Similar to the tomato, the yellow to dark orange fruit has a sweet, spicy flavour when it is fully ripe. Sweet and delicious persimmon fruits are rich in health promoting nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants that are vital for optimum health. Botanically, the fruit belongs to the family of Ebenaceae of the genus: Diospyros. Scientific name: Diospyros virginiana Persimmon is a multi-trunked or single-stemmed deciduous tree, which grows up to 25 ft. in height. They grow best in areas that have moderate winters and relatively mild summers.
Persimmon trees classified broadly into two general categories: those that bear “astringent fruit” (whilst unripe) and those that bear “non-astringent” fruits. An astringent cultivar, which is commonly cultivated in Japan known as “Hachiya,” is high in tannins and must be allowed to ripen fully until it attains jelly-soft consistency before fit to eat. A non-astringent persimmon, on the other hand, contains less tannin and can be eaten while it is crispy as in apples. Persimmon is a very healthy fruit to eat with only 120 calories and 0 grams of fat. They are also a good source of iron, calcium, and dietary fiber. Because of their bright orange colour, they are heart healthy and can help stave off vision problems.
Persimmons are very popular in Asian culture and persimmons are often used as a natural remedy for hiccups, diarrhea, sweating, and bleeding. Astringency can be removed by treating the fruit with carbon dioxide or alcohol. The fruit is low in calories (provides 70 calories/100g) and fats but is a rich source of dietary fiber. Persimmons contain health benefiting phyto-nutrients flavonoid poly-phenolic anti-oxidants like catechins and gallocatechins as well as important anti-tumor compound betulinic acid.
Catechins are known to have anti-infective, anti-inflammatory and anti-hemorrhagic (prevents bleeding from small blood vessels) properties. Fresh persimmons contain anti-oxidant compounds like vitamin-A, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zea-xanthin and cryptoxanthin. Together, these compound functions as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that plays a role in aging and various disease processes. Zea-xanthin, an important dietary carotenoid, selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering functions; thus, helps prevent “Age-related macular related macular disease” (ARMD) in the elderly. They are also a very good source of vitamin-C, another powerful antioxidant (especially native Chinese and American persimmons; provide 80 per cent of DRI). Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals. The fruit is good in many valuable B-complex vitamins such as folic acid, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), thiamin…etc.
Fresh Persimmon fruits also contain healthy amounts of minerals like potassium, manganese (15 per cent of DRI), copper (12 per cent of DRI), and phosphorus. They have a fibrous texture and provide a good amount of fiber for the diet. Persimmons are also fat free, and they are a good source of healthy carbohydrates and natural sugar. The compounds shibuol and betulinic acid found in persimmons are believed to have cancer-fighting properties. Persimmons are also rich in vitamin A, which is known to help battle prevent cancer. Eating persimmons raw can be good for the skin since persimmon peel is known containing certain phytochemicals.
Some studies have proven that these phytochemicals protect cells and prevent oxidation, which can fight the signs of aging. Some people eat raw persimmons for other health benefits, such as treating constipation, hemorrhoids and diarrhea. Persimmons are even used to slow or stop bleeding. Persimmons are cooked in dishes to treat lung disease and asthma, and they are part of a traditional cure for hiccups in China. The shibuol found in persimmons is helpful in small quantities. If it is eaten in large amounts, however, a sticky or gummy substance can form in the stomach. The fuyu is rounder, similar to a tomato or pumpkin, with a yellow-orange skin. The hachiya has a deep orange skin, and is shaped like a heart.
The fuyu persimmon is a non-astringent variety, meaning it can be eaten when firm or soft. These are the persimmons you would slice for a snack and eat raw. The hachiya persimmon is an astringent variety, which means you must wait until it is fully ripe and very soft before you can eat it. The hachiya is mostly used for baking. Despite all of the health benefits of eating persimmons, it is possible to have too much of a good thing and adding our diet.
The writers are associated with the Institute of Horticultural Sciences University of Agriculture Faisalabad