Persimmons are a sweet, flavorful fruit that hasn’t gotten much attention. That’s probably because many people don’t know what it is, how to eat it, or that it’s good for you.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their collaborators are working to bring this uncommon Asian native fruit into the limelight. In 2016, the United States exported 7.4 million pounds of fresh persimmons valued at $3.6 million and imported 7.4 million pounds valued at $5.7 million (USDA Economics Resource Service).
Persimmons are sold mainly in California, which produces 99 percent of the U.S. persimmon crop, according to Andrew Breksa, a chemist at ARS’s Western Regional Research Center(WRRC) in Albany, California. Persimmon trees are also grown by home gardeners and in some other states.
The fruit, which is high in vitamin C, varies in shape and color. The most common market types are Fuyu and Hachiya. Fuyu persimmons are light yellow-orange with a tomato- or pumpkin-like shape. Hachiya are dark orange with an acorn-like shape.
The availability of fresh persimmons is limited outside of California, and the fruit is only available for three months-typically late September through December. Breksa and his colleagues are developing ways to dry persimmons so the fruit will be available year round, which may help growers increase profits.
Breksa’s team includes WRRC engineer Rebecca Milczarek and horticulturist John Preece at the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Respiratory in Davis, California. They are working with California persimmon growers and University of California, Davis, to select the best cultivars for commercial and home drying.
Results of this research, funded by a California Department of Food and Agriculture grant, was recently published online in Food Science & Nutrition. Scientists identified the best cultivars for making dried chip-style persimmons and determined how well consumers liked these snacks. Out of 40 cultivars, volunteer tasters preferred chips made from Fuyu, Lycopersicon, Maekawa Jiro, Nishimura Wase, Tishihtzu and Yotsumizo.
Flyers will be distributed where persimmons are sold, detailing the fruit’s nutritional benefits and how to dry it (see persimmon flyers).
Consumers who like persimmons won’t have to wait until harvest season to enjoy them, according to Breksa. They can buy extra fresh fruit when it’s in season and dry it at home.