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Summary Article: PERSIMMON
from Cambridge World History of Food

Although there are persimmon trees that are native to North America, the orange-red persimmon (Diospyros kaki) that North Americans usually consume originated in Asia. This persimmon is native to China but is known as the Japanese persimmon because it has been cultivated mostly in Japan. Today, however, the fruit is also cultivated in the south of France and some of the Mediterranean countries, where it was introduced in the early nineteenth century, and in the southern United States and California, where it arrived in 1870.

The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is native to the eastern and southern United States, and the name “persimmon” - deriving from the Algonquian pessemin - is American, too. The Algonquians ate persimmons raw and also dried the fruits for winter consumption. American persimmons are smaller than those from Japan, which are about the size of a tomato. Both varieties may be yellow, orange, or red, although the American persimmon can be a darker red, almost purple. The trees of the D. kaki species grow to between 20 and 30 feet in height, whereas D. virginiana reaches 30 to 60 feet. A mature tree will yield 75 to 100 pounds of persimmons annually.

The Hachiya variety, which accounts for the overwhelming bulk of the commercial crop in the United States (grown mostly in California), is an astringent variety, meaning that it is bitter until it is ripe. Another variety, Fuyu (crisper and lighter in color), is more common in Japan and Israel. When ripe, persimmons are soft, and their brown or orange pulp has a sweet taste. They are a good source of beta-carotene and potassium as well as vitamin C.

Common names and synonyms: American persimmon, Chinese fig, common persimmon, date plum, Fuyu, Hachiya, Japanese persimmon, kaki, Oriental persimmon.

© Cambridge University Press 2000

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