If you venture outside the realm of the child-friendly trio of apples, bananas, and oranges, chances are you have familiarized yourself with such popular fruits as mangoes, pomegranate, acai berries, and even jackfruit. While your bacon-eating, Coke-slurping Midwestern cousin may not know the magic of jackfruit, most of those with a toe in the health food community can tell you all about the latest flashy, exciting, exotic super fruit.
But perhaps one of the most powerful super fruits is one that is often left out of top ten lists and trail mixes: the humble persimmon. Despite their high nutrient content and other health benefits, they have yet to find their way into the health food spotlight here in the United States. You may be wondering what a persimmon even is!
The persimmon is a fruit which comes into season beginning mid-September all the way through December. Often overshadowed by other fall favorites like pumpkins and crisp apples, the persimmon looks more like an anemic tomato: it is small, round, glossy-skinned, and topped with a patch of pale green leaves. Persimmons, depending on variety, range from light orange to various shades of dark red-orange.
There are two main types of persimmons sold in the United States: fuyu and hachiya. Fuyu persimmons tend to be on the shorter side—shaped more like tiny decorative pumpkins—and have a sweet taste even before they are considered fully ripe. These sweet persimmons tend to be more user-friendly, because they are edible even when they are on the firmer side.
The other common persimmon variety, the hachiya, is what’s known as an astringent persimmon. Heart-shaped and full of tannins, this fruit is completely inedible until fully ripe. The most efficient way to ripen the fruit, and therefore reduce the level of astringent tannins, is the old banana trick: throw the unripe persimmon in a paper bag along with other ripe fruit and wait a few days for the ethylene to work its magic. Though the window of consumption is narrower for hachiya persimmons, they are well worth the wait; a fully ripe hachiya persimmon has a soft, sweet flavor and texture that makes them perfect for mixing into oatmeal or fruity salad.
Where did these strange, sweet tomato-impersonators come from? Though they are now cultivated in warm climates all around the world, persimmon trees originated in China. From there, they spread to modern-day Korea and Japan, and eventually to the rest of the world.
Though Native Americans had eaten the fruit for centuries (mostly by drying it to get rid of the astringency and cooking it into various dishes, such as the beloved-by-colonists persimmon bread), the first written records of American persimmons date back to the 1500s, when a member of the infamous Roanoke Colony wrote that persimmons were inedible until they were rotten. Even John Smith complained that eating the unripe fruit was torturous, while a perfectly ripe persimmon was “delicious.”
Because American persimmon trees were so resilient, they were far from being a delicacy in the 1800s. They grew like weeds, so that Native Americans, poor white men, and even slaves all had equal access to the sweet fruit. Persimmons are mentioned in many classic American folk songs, and during the Civil War, some people used persimmon seeds in lieu of coffee beans. Some Confederate soldiers even used persimmon seeds as buttons on their coats.
But persimmons are good for more than bread and coat buttons. Considered to be a ‘fruit of the gods’ by the ancient Greeks, and prized by those practicing traditional Chinese medicine, this often-overlooked fruit has earned a place as one of many powerful foods in nature. So, what are the health benefits of persimmons? Take a look at our list:
Health Benefits of Persimmon
1. They fight the negative effects of stress and aging.
As our bodies grow older, deal with various stressors, and struggle to maintain balance in the rush of our day to day lives, we start to fray a little around the edges. Persimmons are loaded with all sorts of goodies that help the body withstand the cruelties of time’s winged chariot. The vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in this waxy fruit help support your body against the wear and tear that can damage our health and reduce our quality of life.
2. They may lower bad cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
Several studies have linked persimmons with a reduction in bad cholesterol. One rat study found that cholesterol levels dropped after just nine weeks of regular persimmon-munching, and another study performed on humans found that persimmons may be helpful in treating patients suffering from dangerously high cholesterol. This is thought to be due to the high levels of tannins found in persimmon flesh.
This particular persimmon superpower is especially important because heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. LDL cholesterol is one of the biggest risk factors associated with developing cardiovascular illness.
3. They are full of magnesium.
Magnesium, an often-overlooked mineral, is a key part of a healthy body… and persimmons are full of it! Magnesium can help with energy levels, exercise recovery, muscle cramps, and even kidney stones. It is also an important component of maintaining bone health—in fact, magnesium deficiency is thought to be a big risk factor for developing osteoporosis.
4. They protect your eyes.
Most of us don’t think of food as a key part of eye health, but persimmons may be just as important as sunglasses on a sunny day. This sweet fruit is nature’s eye supplement: it contains large amounts of Vitamin A and lycopene, in addition to other components that have been linked to healthy eyes. Taking in high levels of eye-supporting nutrients has been shown to reduce the risk of developing cataracts, which are the main cause of blindness. Move over, carrots.
5. They may aid in athletic performance and recovery.
Runners, cyclists, bodybuilders, and other athletes may want to think about incorporating persimmons into their post-workout meal. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and the easy carbohydrates that support endurance and aid in recovery. The simple sugars make them a quick source of energy for a runner hunting for the perfect pre-run snack. They also contain a lot of potassium, which is an especially important mineral for active individuals who sweat a lot.
6. They can prevent thyroid problems… naturally.
Americans have a hard time getting enough iodine—so hard, in fact, that we now fortify our table salt with it! If you want to skip the salt and opt for something more natural, pick up a persimmon. Persimmons have high amounts of naturally occurring iodine, which supports thyroid health.
7. They support a strong immune system.
Many forms of traditional and folk medicine recommend persimmon flesh to treat the common cold. Today, we understand that persimmons aren’t a ‘cold cure’, but they do provide your immune system with the boost it needs to power through a bad case of the sniffles. This is probably due to the antioxidants, high water content, and fiber content. A single ripe persimmon contains over 80% of the recommended daily amount of the cold-busting Vitamin C.
8. They contain fiber, which can help relieve bloating and constipation.
One persimmon contains about six grams of fiber, which, along with water, is the key factor in digestive health. The fiber in a juicy persimmon will sweep out your system if things start to get backed up. In addition, the fiber content may help you reach your goal weight—it will keep you fuller longer, which means you feel less hungry throughout the day. With a little bit of fiber on board to suppress your appetite, it gets easier to achieve the caloric deficit necessary to burn fat.
9. Persimmons may prevent diabetes.
While no one food can fully protect against diabetes, persimmons look promising. One Japanese study discovered that consuming peel extract reduced insulin resistance in test subjects. The rats who were given persimmon peel extract over a period of twelve weeks demonstrated improved insulin sensitivity. Persimmons also fight diabetes by reducing overall inflammation in the body, and through their fiber content, which reduces dangerous blood sugar spikes.
10. They may help lower your blood pressure and prevent heart disease.
One of the unfortunate side effects of our stressful, sedentary lives is high blood pressure. Fortunately, persimmons are a perfect food for someone who is trying to lower their blood pressure! Their high magnesium content may lower blood pressure and reduce the overall risk of heart attacks and cardiac-related death. Several studies have found that those with higher magnesium intake are significantly less likely to develop heart disease or die of cardiac-related illness.
11. They may reduce your risk of cancer.
Like their supermarket lookalike, the tomato, persimmons contain high levels of the famous cancer-fighting chemical known as lycopene. In addition, they are full of many other antioxidants, which fight the free radicals that can cause dangerous cell damage. The flavonoids in persimmon flesh may even protect against possibly-dangerous DNA mutations.