The Persimmon wonders

If you have not tasted persimmons, you are missing a marvelous fruit. They are my favorite fruit and I like them crunchy (not too ripe). Known as a “fruit of the gods” in ancient Greece, this shiny “glazed” reddish-orange colored fruit, has a unique sweet/juicy addicting taste of its own. The most popular variety (regular Fuyu) is shaped like a tomato and is truly delectable. Persimmons contain not only a lot of vitamins and minerals, but also have plenty of antioxidant polyphenol/flanaoids with some medicinal properties beneficial to health.

The four varieties are: Japanese, American, Indian, and black persimmons. Besides regular Fuyu, the other types are Giant Fuyu, Hachiya, Amagaki, Sharon, Tanenashi, Fuyugaki, Chocolate persimmons, and many others. Then, there is the American persimmons, grown in Florida, California, west to Iowa, south to Texas, and other warmer States, hardiness zones 4 through 9. I have two Fuyu persimmon trees I planted 8 years ago in my backyard in Las Vegas, which is zone 9a, sometimes a bit too warm, but luckily they are thriving (like my apple tree and other dwarf citrus fruits trees) and bearing fruits.

Persimmons are either astringent (like Hachiya) or non-astringent (sweet like Fuyu). This fruit is in season from October through February and is usually ready for harvest before it gets too wintery cold and before birds and squirrels get to them first. There are some individual fruit pouches available to protect the fruits from them. Hot peppers, vinegar, are supposed to repel squirrels and other animals, besides commercial animal repellants.

History of persimmons

Marco Polo’s accounts reveal China traded in persimmons in the early 14th century. Persimmon, the oriental variety, was native to southeastern China, belonging to stone fruit group. This famous fruit is also cultivated in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, found its way to Queensland, Australia in 1885. It is also popular in the Mediterranean coasts of France, Italy and other countries in Europe, Algeria, Russia for more than a hundred years. US Navy Commodore Matthew Perry in 1856 sent the first seed from Japan to the United States. The USDA imported grafted persimmon trees in 1870 distributed to California and southeastern states. In 1912, the original trees were brought into Palestine from America and Sicily.

Impressive health benefits

Persimmons are loaded with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, polyphenols/ flavonoids, and fibers that are essential to health. One 168 gram-fruit has 118 calories, 1 gram of protein, 31 gram of carbohydrates, 0.3. gram fats, and 6 gram of fibers. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for persimmons are: Vitamin A, 55%, Vitamin C, 22%, E, 6%, K, 5%, B6, 8%,Potassium, 8%, copper, 9%, manganese, 30%, calcium, >1%, folate, riboflavin, tannic acid, gallic acid, carotenoids, quercetin, kaempferol, other flavonoids, all of which make this fruit beneficial in lowering blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and the risk for heart disease, metabolic diseases, and cancer. Its fiber content helps in satiety (less food intake for better weight control) and also acts as a probiotic by fueling the good bacteria in our gut.

In a study of 98,000 persons, there was 18 percent fewer deaths from heart related conditions among those who consumed the highest polyphenols/flavonoids by lowering blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and decreasing inflammation in the body.

Antioxidants, beneficial plant compounds, are substances that prevent or slow down cell damage by counteracting oxidative stress, a  reaction triggered by unstable molecules called free radicals, which results from stress, depression, daily problems, bad diet, substance abuse, tobacco, alcohol, lack of exercise, and environmental conditions.

Antioxidant-rich foods (vegetables, fruits), avoiding bad habits and foods that are toxic to our body (like processed meats: sausages, bacon, ham, etc.) counteract oxidative processes in our body and reduce risks for certain chronic diseases.

Persimmons contain beta carotene, pigment in many colorful vegetables and fruits which reduces risk for heart disease, lung and colorectal cancers, and metabolic disease, like diabetes. They are also rich in potassium which prevents kidney stone formation.

One persimmon provides rhodopsin, which is an essential protein for normal vision, besides lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants for health vision. All these also reduces the risk for macular degeneration by 40% as shown in a study of 100,000 individuals eating persimmons regularly. These substances are also good for preventing night blindness and the progress of cataract. This versatile fruit also contains Betulinic acid which removes toxin in the body and lowers risk for cancer. The fibers in it prevents constipation and lessens hemorrhoids formation. The Phenolic acids in persimmons slows down arteriosclerosis and all antioxidants in persimmons protect and boost the immune system.

The potent vitamin C in persimmons protects body cells from damage by free radicals and reduces inflammation, significantly lowering the levels of C reactive protein and interleukin, substances produced by inflammation, the body’s #1 enemy. Vitamin C, together with Vitamins A and K, slows premature aging process and wrinkle formation. All these health benefits add up with regular intake of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, food items, like persimmons, berries, avocados, other fruits, virgin olive oil, fish,

And the practical best benefits of them all, persimmons has a mouth-watering enjoyable luscious taste so irresistible and addictive as to fully deserve the distinction of being called “a fruit of the gods.”

Persimmons could be used in salad together with with berries and other citrus fruits, for baking muffins, with chicken and meat, added to smoothies, or simply munching on them, crunchy and sweet, making it excellent for breakfast and snacks. After washing it well, including organic ones, the nutrient skin may also be eaten, a matter of personal taste.

Persimmon and diabetics

            Those with diabetes can eat their favorite fruits in moderation, all of which contain natural sugar (fructose) but all the calories in them should be computed into the prescribed diabetic diet. And persimmons is such a great treat which also cubs hunger as stated above, which complements the advice in my previous columns: to push ourselves (overweight or not) away from the table less than full, filing the gap with refreshing 6-stage filtered water, a glass before meals, and a glass or two after.

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is a medical lecturer/author, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites: FUN8888.com, philipSchua.com   Email: [email protected]