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Izu persimmons grow on dwarf trees that are very productive. The fruits are round, with a slightly flattened shape, much like miniature pumpkins or a tomato. Izu persimmons ripen to a burnt orange and are considered medium-sized. When harvested, the persimmons have a small stem surrounded by the remaining sepal (leaves) from the flower. Izu persimmons are non-astringent, with a crunchy, pale orange flesh and smooth texture. Izu persimmons can be eaten when firm, or when the fruit just begins to soften. The fruits have little to no seeds. The taste is very sweet.
Izu persimmons are available in the first few months of fall.
Izu persimmons are an early-ripening variety of persimmon and are the first of the sweet, non-astringent persimmons to make an appearance in markets. Botanically, the fruit is known as Diospyros kaki ‘Izu’. The species name comes from the Japanese word for red, akaki, which is the color of the leaves on the trees when the fruits are at their peak. Izu persimmons are sometimes referred to as Japanese persimmons or Asian persimmons. They can be differentiated from the astringent or sour types by their squat, donut shape.
Izu persimmons are rich in vitamins A and C, and contain high amounts of fiber and tannins. Persimmons contain antioxidants, which help the body fight off free-radicals, and minerals like phosphorus and manganese. The sweet persimmons also contain a moderate amount of sugar.
Izu persimmons can be eaten raw, when the nutritional benefit is best, but they can also be cooked or made into jam or preserves. Izu persimmons are eaten when firm and just ripe. Turn the fruit upside down and cut in half, pulling the fruit apart at the stem, or cut widthwise. The skin is edible, though it can sometimes be slightly bitter or tannic. To avoid the skin, the flesh can be spooned out or the halves can be slices thinly and added to salads or pizzas, or pureed the flesh for jams or tarts. Often the non-astringent persimmon can be substituted for apples or pears in many recipes, because of the similar texture and sweetness. Use Izu persimmons in baked goods, like scones, muffins and breads. Izu persimmons can be dried or dehydrated; the texture is similar to dried papaya. The non-astringent Izu variety will continue to ripen off the tree and will keep for 3-5 days. Refrigeration will help the fruit keep a bit longer. Persimmon puree can be frozen for up to six months.
The Latin name for the genus Diospyros, literally translates to "food of the gods." In China, persimmons have had cultural significance for the last 2,000 years. In China, the fruit is often given as a gift for good luck around the new year and are sometimes given as wedding gifts to the new couple. Persimmon is used to make a sweet called shi zi bing or “persimmon cake;” dried or pureed persimmon is used to make a dough that is stuffed with black sesame or peanut paste. Shi zi bing is a popular street food, particularly in the Chinese city of Xi'an.
Bred in Japan, the Izu persimmon is native to both Japan and China, and was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s. Typically, persimmons grow best in regions that are warmer with a more temperate climate. Izu persimmons, however, are well-suited to cooler climates and will withstand temperatures down to zero degrees Fahrenheit. Izu persimmons are one of almost 500 different varieties that have been developed throughout Asia.