These beautiful orange fruits appear at the market in fall.

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Heralded by Halloween and headed for Thanksgiving, beautiful orange persimmons appear at market in fall, just in time to become the best holiday decorations: the edible kind. But if you have ever tasted a persimmon and experienced a shock of tannin on your outraged tongue, you may never have tried again. Knowing how to choose a ripe persimmon is key to falling in love with this beautiful orange fruit.

The large persimmons we see for sale are cultivars of a tree native to East Asia, Diospyros kaki. Most commercially available persimmons are broadly distinguished by two different shapes and names. Both are the key to understanding when a persimmon is ripe: One is inedibly astringent when firm while one is sweet.

Fuyu

Squat, tomato-shaped fruits with flattened bottoms are collectively referred to as Fuyu persimmons. If a persimmon can rest comfortably on its bottom, it is a Fuyu. When are they ripe? First, Fuyus should be a bright orange color (they are sometimes sold while under-ripe and pale). A few days on a kitchen counter should be sufficient. But is a Fuyu firm or soft when ripe? Remember this: Fuyu, flat, firm. You can bite into and slice a firm Fuyu just like an apple. Fuyus are good to eat sliced into salads and onto crostini, dried as chips, braised with pork for dinner, or simply peeled for a sumptuous dessert.

fresh hachiya persimmons in whicker basket
Credit: bhofack2 / Getty Images

Hachiya

Then there are the acorn-shaped Hachiya cultivars, which are elongated with pointy bottoms. Stood up on its end a Hachiya would topple over (they are always displayed points-up). If you bite into a firm Hachiya you will recoil: Unripe Hachiyas are horribly tannic and are sweet only when squishy-soft (when they will taste wonderful). But don't be one of those uncouth people who establishes their superiority by exercising the old opposable thumb trick. Squeezing Hachiyas ruins them for others, including the seller. Choose Hachiyas without blemish (like the thumb prints of the entire neighborhood) and keep them at room temperture until deeply orange and soft. This can take over a week. When they are gelatinously soft, cut them in half and scoop out their flesh with a spoon. The intensely flavored pulp is also a very good baking ingredient: Make a spiced persimmon loaf for fall comfort.

But the best way to eat a ripe Hachiya? Freeze it for a few of hours (or overnight) until solid. Remove the fruit 15-20 minutes before you want to eat it. As the outside of the persimmon thaws slightly, a glittering coat of frost forms on the skin. Cut off its top off and you'll have instant persimmon sorbet! It is the easiest dinner party dessert ever, and it's so dramatic in its simplicity.

There is an exception to the persimmon identification game: A hybrid of Fuyu and Hachiya-types is marketed as 'Rojo Brillante' and is thought to be a natural variant that occurred in Spain, before being cultivated there as an important crop. It is ripe when firm even though it looks a lot like elongated Hachiyas. For commercial purposes, the fruit are often artificially ripened using a carbon dioxide treatment. Look closely for a tiny label in case you bite into an astringent Hachiya!

How to Use Persimmons

One of the oldest ways of preserving persimmons is to make the East Asian delicacy known in Japanese as hoshigaki. Peeled persimmons are suspended from strings to dry and massaged gently to distribute the sugars. When they are brown, with a powdery coat of sugar crystals on the outside, they are ready and will be delectable. Hoshigaki are prized as holiday gifts, and keep indefinitely.

Persimmons shine in recipes from savory appetizers through salads and desserts, as our collection of persimmon recipes shows.

More Persimmons to Try, Including One Native to North America

While the large persimmons we see at market are native to Asia (and may have been imported from there, too), they are also grown commercially in California (you can order them from Frog Hollow Farm) or imported from Europe or South America. Persimmons from the Southern Hemisphere will arrive in the U.S. out of season, around late spring.

Not everyone knows the small-fruited native American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. The ripe, soft fruits smell like roses and ripe apricots. They are certainly the fruit that Native Americans enjoyed and the first persimmons used in early colonial persimmon puddings and breads. Further south and west, and into Mexico, Diospyros texana turns glossily black when ripe. To preserve windfalls of either native persimmon, work the ripe fruit through a foodmill after puréeing to remove seeds and freeze the pulp for later use. It is like soft taffy and very aromatic.

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