Fruit for the fall

Japanese persimmon offers an abundance of health benefits to last through the changing seasons.

If you haven’t spent much time in Japan, China or Korea, and you don’t frequent Asian grocery stores all that often, there’s a chance you have yet to encounter kaki, or Japanese persimmon. Somewhere between yellow and orange, shaped like a tomato and full of nutritional value, kaki is one fruit you’ll want to add to your diet this autumn.

p12_02Harvested in the fall and enjoyed through the winter months, kaki has been around for years—over 2,000, in fact. Originating in China and cultivated for centuries in Japan and Korea, it has long been revered for its perceived power to cure aches and pains of the head, stomach, back and feet. Truth be told, the nutritional punch this fervent fruit packs is no joke: kaki is high in calcium, iron and magnesium. It’s rich in antioxidants and vitamin A. It contains lycopene, a flavonoid known to help lower cholesterol and prevent some cancers. It’s full of potassium and contains twice as much dietary fibre as an apple. High in calories and easy to digest, kaki is a favourite amongst athletes and the elderly, and it’s safe for pregnant women to eat. It’s even said to treat hiccups!

So where can you find it, and how does it taste? Kaki grows on trees that prefer full sunlight, a moderate breeze and regular watering. The fruit grows amongst large, firm, dark green leaves and is ripe once the tree has shed the majority of its leaves, usually in October or November. In the grocery store, it’s best to select kaki fruit that are bright in colour with smooth, unblemished skin. Sweet and tangy, its flavour is generally comparable to that of apricots—but kaki comes in two varieties, astringent (shibugaki) and non-astringent (amagaki). The shibugaki variety is incredibly tart to the tastebuds until it has fully ripened, and by that time it has become too soft and mushy to bite into without making a mess. It’s best used as an ingredient in sauces, jams and spreads. The amagaki sort, on the other hand, can be eaten like an apple while it’s still firm and unripe, and is good for dicing up and throwing into fruit or veggie salads.

Kaki can be stored briefly in the fridge, where the ripening process will continue, but it’s preferable to eat the fruit soon after bringing it home from the supermarket or in from the garden. Another great option is to peel the skin and rinse it with shochu (Japanese liquor) before leaving it to dry and enjoying it through the winter. Hoshigaki, or dried persimmon, is just as high in vitamins and minerals as the fresh fruit option, and can be used in cakes and cookies or as a cereal topping. After peeling the skin to make hoshigaki, sprinkle a bit of sugar on the remaining kaki flesh and enjoy an afternoon snack by the kitchen window as the leaves fall outside. The onset of winter never tasted so sweet.