Fall and winter are prime time for persimmons, the tree fruit that's sometimes called the apple of Japan. Still, this stunningly beautiful fruit stumps a lot of cooks, who aren't quite sure what to look for when buying them and then what to do with them once they get them home.

650 x 465 Persimmons photo by Leslie Kelly
Photo by Leslie Kelly

Here's How to Choose

Two varieties most widely available in the U.S. are at the opposite ends of flavor extremes, one known for being sweet and tender, while the other is firm and tannic until fully ripe. Heart-shaped Hachiya are firm and almost bitter when harvested, but turn creamy and sweet when ripe. Food scientist Harold McGee points out that this fruit was the very first example of controlled atmosphere storage, when Chinese farmers buried unripe persimmons to speed the ripening process. When the fruit is deprived of oxygen, it produces a substance that prevents tannins from coming across as bitter. One trick seasoned cooks try is to wrap a persimmon tightly in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. In a few days, the fruit's flesh turns into something that looks and tastes like sorbet.

The Fuyu is mild and sweet, and can be sliced and eaten like any fresh fruit, making every day salads kind of exotic. All persimmons make cakes, quick breads and cookies moist. Spiced Persimmon Butter looks gorgeous in the jar and even better on a buttermilk biscuit. Dried persimmons make a base for a tea that's popular in Korea, a beverage that's believed to benefit digestion. Convinced yet that you really need to try persimmons? Check out our Best Persimmon Recipes.

Hungry for more stories about unusual fruit?

Check out our complete collection Persimmon Recipes.