Hipster persimmons are more than a funny looking tomato
Sweet and nutrient-rich, the kaki is the latest exotic fruit on the tip of foodie hipsters' tongues.
As a citrus farmer's daughter growing up in Patensie, South Africa, I had the privilege of growing up with a bounty of fresh fruit within arm's reach. And with so many different climates in one country you can get almost any fruit or vegetable. I feel if you taste a perfectly ripe specimen of a particular fruit, you'll fall in love with it.
I have a particular love of 'forgotten fruit' varieties that become trendy on the foodie scene or well known for their health benefits. So I'm a great fan of www.irishseedsavers.ie who do such good work in protecting species and plants.
One of my current pet favourites is the persimmon. Also known as sharon fruit or kaki. Persimmons are popping up everywhere, even in mainstream supermarkets. It looks very much like an orange tomato but with a bigger leaf that covers most of the top of the fruit. If you bite into it, it is extremely juicy with a sweet, almost fragrant flavour.
The persimmon tree, thought to be of Chinese origin, belongs to a large family of hardwoods, which includes ebony. The wood of the tree is so durable, that during the Civil War in America, it was used to make rifle buts and even uniform buttons! Persimmons are a very ancient fruit, revered in several cultures. Its Latin name - Diospyros - means divine fruit or the literal meaning fruit of Zeus. In Japan, it is known as kaki, where it is the national fruit of Japan and highly prized.
My parents are visiting from South Africa and I ordered a box of persimmons from my fresh produce supplier as my mom loves them. My dad, being an export citrus farmer, of course checked the box to see where they came from. And that's what sparked this column, it reminded me of a magnificent wine and fruit farm that we visited together in Franschhoek, in the Western Cape of South Africa. The farm, Allee Bleue, cultivates acres and acres of lush persimmon trees, along with an abundance of fresh herbs, stone fruit and grapevines. If I hadn't eloped, Allee Bleue would definitely have been my wedding venue! With a lovely restaurant attached, they have an excellent seasonal menu featuring produce such as persimmons from the farm. Plus matching wines of course. Check out www.alleebleue.co.za for some inspiration.
Persimmons have been cultivated in Britain since 1629 and are traditionally known as the date plum. Recent figures show that sales of persimmon have exceeded other exotic fruit such as mangoes and pineapples. Not widely cultivated yet in Ireland, there are a few growers who have planted some trees. Such as the Rock farm in Slane, so watch this space. See www.rockfarmslane.ie for more details. They are resistant to the cold and are normally sold from the nurseries as a small established tree, ready to be planted.
The persimmon is an excellent source of vitamin A, an important antioxidant. One persimmon will give you 55pc of your recommended daily value. It also contains potassium, vitamin C and copper. One persimmon gives you 21pc of your recommended daily vitamin C intake. It has a mild laxative effect, much like rhubarb. A ripe persimmon contains twice as much fibre as an apple, which is essential for lowering cholesterol and bowel health.
They contain good amounts of manganese, a co-factor for the enzyme dismutase. This is essential for healthy mucous membranes and skin. And also as a protective measure against lung and mouth cancers. So very beneficial for smokers.
Persimmons have been found to be the leader of the fruit bowl in fighting heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. A study published by the University of Jerusalem contained high concentrations of the dietary fibre, minerals and phenolic compounds which is vital in combating atherosclerosis in which arteries become blocked. The same study proved that persimmons also improved lipid metabolism which is the way the body copes with fat. Persimmons can also help prevent blood clots and ward off certain types of cancers. It is recommended to eat one medium-sized persimmon a day to see the benefits.
For one small fruit, persimmons certainly contain a powerhouse of nutrients such as catechins. These have antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties and help to protect small blood vessels from bleeding. Along with zeaxanthin and lutein, these nutrients help look after eye health, especially in diabetes patients.
Persimmons are one of the few foods known to kill breast cancer cells. Scientists put this down to a flavonoid called fisetin, which is present in many fruits and vegetables but in particularly high concentration in persimmons. Fisetin is also effective against colon and prostate cancer cells.
Top Tips on selecting persimmons:
Persimmons are divided into astringent and non-astringent varieties. The astringent varieties need to be really ripe and soft before eating otherwise they are horribly bitter. The non-astringent varieties are firmer and can be used like tomatoes or apples in recipes. Although you'll see a limited amount of varieties here, it's good to know your apples from your pears as such.
Astringent varieties: Eureka, Hachiya, Honan Red, Saijo, Tamopan, Tanenashi, Triumph.
Non-astringent varieties: Fuyu, Gosho, Imoto, Izu, Jiro, Maekawajiro, Okugosho, Suruga.
The two most common types of persimmon are the Hachiya and Fuyu varieties. Fuyas are round, tomato-shaped and crisp and can be eaten like an apple or pear. Hachiya are oblong, soft and pulpy and should be super ripe and soft before using. Hachiya are creamy and great for baking, while the Fuyu is good enjoyed raw or grilled.
1) Add chunks of persimmon to a curry for a subtle, fruit flavour.
2) On a cheeseboard, place thin wedges of persimmons to complement the cheeses instead of apple.
3) Wrap Parma ham around wedges of persimmon for a modern take on a classic canapé.
4) Add persimmons to lunch boxes instead of an apple.
5) Persimmons can be added used in traditional baked desserts such as crumbles for a melting treat.
6) Serve persimmons with Greek yoghurt, a drizzle of honey and some toasted hazelnuts for a delicious brunch or dessert.
7) Add chunks of persimmon to porridge to brighten up your breakfast.
8) Persimmons can be added to fruit salads to keep them interesting.
9) Delicious added to couscous with mint, orange zest and olive oil for a salad or side dish.
10) Slice the top off, sprinkle a little salt, and scoop out the juicy flesh for a quick snack.
11) Serve as a salad with goats' cheese and toasted almonds dressed with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette.
12) Add slices of persimmon to your brown soda bread dough for a fruity surprise.
13) Try persimmon chutney as an alternative to cranberry sauce for Christmas.
14) Roast persimmons with chicken for a tangy sweet side.
15) Add diced persimmons and a pinch of cinnamon to scone dough before rolling out and cutting.
16) Replace raspberries or strawberries in a cheesecake recipe with persimmons.
17) Make a simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water and cook diced persimmon until soft and pulpy. Strain and use in summer drunks and cocktails. Can be flavoured with ginger or vanilla.
18) Persimmons are delicious grilled or roasted with pork and duck.
19) Pan fry wedges with halloumi cheese, sliced apples and a pinch of cinnamon.
20) Pan fry with duck breasts instead of the usual plums or cherries.
Try some persimmons this summer for a palate-pleasing fresh taste and texture, and maybe a lunch box filler in September!
Recipes adapted from Relish BBQ Cookbook by Rozanne Stevens. For cookbooks and healthy cookery classes, log onto www.rozannestevens.com.
Health & Living