The brightly colored persimmon is an eye-catching member of produce departments, but most people aren’t too familiar with the fruit.
This is a pity because persimmons are easy to eat, have significant health benefits and have a pleasant sweet taste.
The term persimmon refers to the fruit from a number of trees in the Diospyros genus.
Specifically, the term is used as a reference to the fruits from this genus that are edible to humans, as many species in the genus produce inedible fruits.
There is a wide range of different types of persimmons, but the most common variety is Diospyros kaki. Two specific cultivars of this species are the Hachiya and the Fuyu persimmons.
These two varieties are the most common varieties of persimmon in the United States and tend to be the only varieties available in most grocery stores.
Diospyros kaki was initially grown in China thousands of years ago and expanded into Japan around 1,300 years ago.
The species was introduced into the Europe and the United States in the 1800s and has also expanded to other parts of the world.
Types of Persimmon
Some of the key types of persimmon include the following, although there are many others:
- Asian persimmon/Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki)
- Date-plum (Diospyros lotus)
- American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
- Black persimmon (Diospyros diguna)
- Indian persimmon (Diospyros peregrine)
- Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana)
Commercially, persimmons can be broken down into two major types. These are astringent persimmons and non-astringent persimmons.
It’s really important to know which category a persimmon falls into before you take a bite, as that will determine whether you have a good experience or a bad one.
One of the key things about astringent persimmons is that they have an unpalatable taste if they are eaten before they are ripe. However, once the fruit has ripened it tastes sweet and delicate, which makes it very appealing.
Because of the astringency of this type of persimmon, it is necessary to wait until they are very soft before eating.
The most common example of an astringent persimmon is the Hachiya persimmon.
Non-astringent persimmons do still contain some tannins, but the amount is much lower than astringent persimmons. Furthermore, the persimmons lose their tannins sooner.
This means that non-astringent persimmons can be eaten sooner, even when they are still firm. Non-astringent persimmons also remain edible when they are soft, meaning that they can be eaten for longer overall.
The most common example of a non-astringent persimmon is the Fuyu persimmon.
While most persimmons fall under the astringent/non-astringent categorization, there is a third type to be aware of.
This type is the pollination-variant non-astringent persimmons, and they aren’t as common as the other types of persimmons.
The key difference is that the flesh of this type of persimmon tends to be brown. The fruit can also be eaten when it is still firm.
The specialty nature of this type of persimmon means that you aren’t likely to find it at grocery stores, and most of the time it is only present at farmers markets or specialty markets.
For most types of food, looking at the nutritional information is easy.
However, for persimmon (like raw honey), the large number of different varieties makes it more challenging to examine the nutritional qualities.
This is because the chemicals and nutrients can vary significantly from one variety to the next.
Of the different varieties of persimmon, Diospyros kaki is the most common. Conventionally, this species is known as the Asian persimmon, Japanese persimmon or the kaki persimmon, and it is an astringent persimmon.
The key nutrients and minerals in one fruit of this particular variety are roughly as follows (1):
- Vitamin A (55% of DV)
- Manganese (30% of DV)
- Dietary Fiber (24% of DV)
- Vitamin C (21% of DV)
- Copper (9% of DV)
- Potassium (8% of DV)
As you can see, the levels of some compounds are very different while others are similar to each other.
In the graph, I’m specifically comparing per 100 g of each respective fruit and the data originally comes from the USDA National Nutrient Database (4). Roughly speaking a medium persimmon is somewhere between 150 g and 200 g in weight.
Interestingly, American (or native) persimmon and the Japanese persimmon are the only persimmon species listed in the database and even then the information for the American persimmon isn’t complete.
Of the nutrients present in persimmon, one of the important ones is manganese. Manganese can be used to treat deficiency of the mineral, and it is also thought to strengthen bones, especially in relation to osteoarthritis (5).
Another important nutrient is vitamin C. A single persimmon more than meets the daily requirements for vitamin C. Vitamin C is critical for health and is thought to be one of the most important nutrients (6).
The fiber is also an important component of persimmon.
Fiber plays a large role in health, including helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improving digestion and even helping with weight loss. Yet, most people don’t get enough fiber in their diet (7).
Finding ways to include fiber in the diet is an important approach for health and fruit is a key source of this fiber.
The nutrients in persimmon are only one reason that the fruit is important for health.
Another reason is the natural compounds present.
Whole, non-processed foods tend to be the source of a large amount of different compounds that we don’t find in heavily processed foods.
For plant products, like persimmon, one key class of compounds are the flavonoids.
There are many different flavonoids and these are often the focus of research looking at how plants and plant products can improve health. In particular, the emphasis for research on flavonoids often focuses on their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential as well as their role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
An important subgroup of these compounds are the flavanols (technically flavan-3-ols).
In a similar way, there is growing interest in the importance of this subgroup for health.
Persimmon has a number of natural compounds falling into these groups that have been focused on for potential health benefits (8).
For example, tannins are very common in persimmon, especially in fruit that is not fully ripe.
Tannin has a complex chemical structure, which includes flavanols. Researchers have suggested that this indicates significant potential for persimmon, especially for foods produced that contain tannins, such as persimmon leaf tea, persimmon vinegar and persimmon wine (9).
Two other key compounds in persimmon are epicatechin gallate (a flavanol) and gallic acid. These two compounds are thought to play a key role in the antioxidant activities of persimmon (10).
Additionally, persimmon may be a good source of the flavanol gallocatechol, which also has antioxidant potential.
Another important group of compounds is the carotenoids.
Carotenoids are the molecules responsible for pigment in nature and there is also a link between these and human health.
Some of the carotenoids that have been most strongly studied include beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein (11).
However, the amount of each compound that persimmon contains is relatively low compared to other foods.
So, if you are specifically looking for carotenoids, some other foods (like dark green leafy vegetables) may be a better choice.
Despite this, the presence of carotenoids in persimmon is another component that adds to the overall health of the fruit.
Flavanoids and Health
I mentioned before that flavonoids have been focused on for their potential health benefits, but I want to briefly talk about some of the studies surrounding this.
One large-scale observational study looked at 13,818 women and recorded information at the outset and around 15 years later.
The authors compared the highest levels of flavonoid intake versus lowest levels of intake. They found that the participants with higher levels of flavonoids had a higher chance of aging healthily (14).
Even though the study was only observational in nature, it offers a strong indication that flavonoid consumption can contribute to long-term health benefits.
A second study on the topic reviewed a range of other studies that had considered the impact of flavonoid consumption on cardiovascular risk factors.
Overall, the authors found that there was significant evidence that flavonoids could decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease (15).
Similar outcomes were found for a meta-analysis on flavonol intake and risk of stroke (16).
These studies are all observational in nature, which makes it difficult to be certain whether the observed effects are present or how strong they are.
However, the potential impacts of flavonoids on health tend to be long-term, which makes most other study designs ineffective or too expensive to undertake.
Health Benefits of Persimmon
As an Antioxidant
In recent years, there has been strong interest in antioxidants.
The phrase has become particularly relevant in marketing for just about anything with some antioxidant potential, but the term is also particularly relevant for health.
Within the body, antioxidants act to block or inhibit a specific chemical reaction called oxidation.
Oxidation is an important reaction and it plays a key role in many chemical processes in the body.
However, the process of oxidation is significant because of free radicals. A free radical is a molecule that has a ‘dangling’ bond, which makes it highly reactive.
Because of this, free radicals can cause damaging reactions in the body and may promote the mutation of cells, potentially contributing to the development of cancer.
Antioxidants do not stop all oxidation reactions in the body, but their ability to hinder these reactions can decrease the significance of free radicals and prevent them from being damaging to health.
For this reason, antioxidants are thought to be able to reduce some of the negative aspects of aging, as oxidation may play a key role in this process (17).
Indeed, one study found that the ability of a specific persimmon variety (the Mopan persimmon) as an antioxidant was stronger than tomato, grape and apple (20).
Cholesterol and Heart Health
The tannins in young persimmons have been linked to decreasing blood cholesterol.
This effect was looked at in an experimental study involving 40 participants. The participants ate specially designed cookie bars three times a day before meals for a 12 week period.
For one group of participants, the bars contained 5 g of tannin-rich fiber, for another group they contained 3 g and for the third group (the placebo), there was no tannin-rich fiber present.
The authors found that the total level of cholesterol in the blood decreased significantly for both groups receiving tannins when compared to the placebo group.
The tannins in persimmons have also been associated with decreases in inflammation in animal studies (24).
Sugar and Obesity
There is always a complicated relationship between fruit and health.
On the one hand, fruit contains a large number of important bioactive compounds that can contribute significantly to health.
On the other hand, fruit also tends to be relatively high in sugar and easy to overconsume. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that because fruit is considered healthy they can eat as much fruit as they want to.
Because of this, fruit can contribute to obesity.
However, there are also indications that some of the compounds in fruit, including persimmons, may contribute to weight loss (25).
Studies are still limited in this area because of the large number of confounding factors, but the potential is certainly there.
For example, one animal study indicated the potential of persimmon to play a role in glucose and lipid metabolism (26).
Health Benefits of Persimmon Leaves
The health benefits of persimmon are not limited to the fruit itself. Instead, compounds in persimmon leaves have also been linked to improvements in health.
Additionally, the leaves also contain significant levels of flavonoids and terpenoids, and these are thought to also play a role in the health benefits of the leaves (29).
Specific health benefits that persimmon leaves have been linked to include prevention and treatment of hypertension and diabetes, as well as inhibiting inflammation, helping to regulate immune function (30,31) and improved brain outcomes (32).
The leaves of persimmon also have significant antibacterial activities although the mechanism behind this remains unknown (33).
How to Eat
Persimmons can be eaten cooked, dried or fresh, and the health benefits of fresh and dried persimmon are roughly the same (34).
Eating them fresh is the simplest approach. For most varieties the persimmon can be cut into quarters or eaten whole in a similar way to an apple.
With some varieties, it might be worth peeling the skin from the fruit first.
If the persimmon is very ripe then the texture may be too soft for this approach.
One way around this is to remove the leave on the top of the persimmon and eat the inside using a spoon. Alternatively, you can break the fruit open and eat from the inside out.
In some cultures, dried persimmons are common. These can be eaten as is, and tend to be considered a dessert or a snack. They can also be used in cooking.
Like a mango, persimmons are not typically juiced and don’t contain enough juice to make the process worthwhile.
However, you can puree a persimmon as part of a smoothie, which can be a fantastic way of getting both fruit and vegetables into your diet.
You can also freeze chunks of persimmon and use these as a base for smoothies.
For example, one type of smoothie with persimmon is one that uses coconut milk and orange juice. There are many different variations out there, such as a persimmon and tangerine smoothie.
Eating Persimmon Leaves
Persimmon is interesting, as some health benefits are associated with the fruit, but other benefits are actually associated with the leaves.
The most common way to eat the leaves is as a tea.
You can make tea from boiling water with persimmon leaves. The tea can be made either using fresh persimmon leaves or dried ones and the two approaches offer similar health benefits.
However, in general, using dried leaves for the tea tends to produce a better taste overall.
Even then, persimmon leaf tea is an acquired taste and some people find it more appealing than others.
Selection and Storage
Persimmons are a highly seasonal fruit and they are typically available between late September and into December in the United States.
Despite the wide range of persimmon varieties out there, the two most common varieties in the United States are the Fuyu and the Hachiya varieties.
Fuyu persimmons are actually a specific variety of the Diospyros kaki persimmon (or Japanese persimmon) (35). It is a non-astringent variety of persimmon and can be eaten when it is still firm.
This variety of persimmon is shorter and wider than other varieties and tends to look a little bit like a tomato.
In contrast, the Hachiya persimmon tends to look more likely an acorn and is astringent. This means that you have to wait until the persimmon is very ripe and soft before you eat it.
Interestingly, the Hachiya persimmon is also a variety of the Diospyros kaki persimmon (36).
Regardless of the variety that you choose, you should look for persimmons that have taut and glossing skin.
Avoid any fruit that has bruises or soft spots as this will affect their quality and taste.
Fully ripe persimmons should be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat them.
In contrast, if the persimmon is still firm (especially for astringent persimmons), you want to store them at room temperature until they are ready to eat.
Make sure you wait until persimmons are fully ripe before you eat them, as eating a persimmon too early can result in a bad stomach ache and discomfort.
Persimmons are safe for human consumption, including by pregnant women.
The fruit can cause allergic reactions, but such reactions are rare (37).
Can Freezing Speed Up Persimmon Ripening?
Waiting for a persimmon to ripen can be frustrating, especially if you have an astringent variety.
Some people argue that you can freeze a persimmon overnight and then thaw it to get rid of the astringency.
However, this doesn’t work so well in practice.
Many people find that the process does result in a soft persimmon that feels ripe and doesn’t have as much astringency.
Nevertheless, the persimmons do tend to still have an astringent aftertaste and cause stomach ache within a few hours of eating.
An alternative approach to speed up ripening is to place the persimmon in a paper bag along with a ripening apple. This approach can work because the apple releases ethylene which helps the persimmon to ripen.
However, in general, in most cases you will just have to wait out the ripening process.
Can You Eat Persimmon Skins?
Persimmon skins are completely edible. However, they are a little tough to chew, and some people choose to remove them because of this.
Are Persimmons Berries?
Persimmons tend to be classified as a fruit from the culinary perspective, in the same way that tomatoes are considered to be a vegetable.
Botanically though, the persimmon (like the tomato) is actually a berry.
Are Persimmons Rotten?
A common assumption about persimmons is that they are ripened until they are rotten.
This isn’t actually true, and instead, persimmons are often ripened using controlled techniques.
For example, one way of doing this is to finish store persimmons that are still ripening in containers with other fruits. Specifically, this approach uses fruits that produce significant amounts of ethylene during ripening, as ethylene plays a key role in persimmon ripening.
Another approach is wrapping the fruit in paper, which may help increase the concentration of ethylene in the air surrounding the fruit.
Chemical approaches are also used commercially on occasion, either to slow down or to speed up the ripening of the fruit.
Overall, a sound ripe persimmon will tend to be almost completely soft. At this point, the fruit might be splitting and the calyx can be lifted out easily.
Even though a ripe persimmon tends to be softer than most other ripe fruits, this does not mean that it is rotten.
We are getting more adventurous with our diets, and persimmon is one example of this pattern.
While persimmon doesn’t have the large number of health benefits that pomegranates have, it is still a very important addition to the diet.
To improve your health overall, one of the best approaches that you can make is to include a range of different whole and natural foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.
Even if you haven’t tried them before, persimmons really can be a worthwhile addition and a great way to add a new taste and some variety into your diet.