Where Does Persimmon Get Its Name From?
The persimmon is an oriental fruit that has been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years. It belongs to the genus Diospyros, literally meaning ‘food of the gods’. The fruit originated in China. As far back as the 14th century, the Chinese were trading in persimmons, according to Marco Polo. The word Diospyros comes from the ancient Greek words “dios” and “pyron”. A popular etymology construed this as “divine fruit”, or as meaning “wheat of Zeus” or “God’s pear” and “Jove’s fire”.
The dio-, as shown by the short vowel ‘i’ has nothing to do with ‘divine’, dio- being an affix attached to plant names, and in classical Greek the compound referred to ‘the fruit of the nettle tree’. The Modern Greek name for the fruit is (lotos), which leads modern Greeks to the assumption that this is the lotus referred to in Homer’s Odyssey. The word persimmon itself is derived from putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, from Powhatan, an Algonquian language of the eastern United States, meaning “a dry fruit”.
In America, the fruit, bark and wood of the persimmon have been used since the 16th century. Native Americans, early European colonists and later settlers used the fruit for both food and medicine. Persimmons were eaten fresh and dried, used to make bread, and brewed into beer. Today, the persimmon is the national fruit of Japan, China and Japan are the world’s leading producers of the fruit.
The persimmon was introduced into India by European settlers in the early 1920s. It is grown on a limited scale in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, hilly areas of Uttar Pradesh and parts of eastern India. The tree is a deciduous one that grows to an average height of 25 feet. The leaves are oval or oblong, glossy on the upper surface and silky beneath. Initially they are bluish-green in color, but turn to rich yellow, orange or red in autumn. The fruit may be round, conical, flattened or nearly square in shape; with thin smooth skin that is yellow, orange or red in color.
It bears a striking resemblance to the tomato. The flesh is yellow or brown in color, and may contain 4 to 8 flat brown seeds (some varieties are seedless). A distinctive feature of the flesh is that it tastes extremely bitter and unpleasant when unripe, but has a rich, sweet and spicy flavor on maturity. This is because the unripe fruit contains a group of chemicals known as tannins. As the fruit ripens and softens, the tannins become inert and the astringency disappears.
The persimmon is a nutritious fruit that is low in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat. It is also a good source of vitamin A, dietary fibre, vitamin C and manganese. However, it is not recommended for dieters as it is high in calories. While the persimmon is eaten fresh in the U.S.A., the custom in Asia has been to dry it for storage and use during winter and spring. In China, the dried persimmon is a particular favorite during the New Year celebration in February.
The fresh fruit is eaten raw and is used to make jams and jellies and to flavor ice cream and yogurt. Further, it is added to fruit salads and baked in cakes and cookies. The persimmon has other, non-food uses as well. The tannin from the unripe fruit is used in dyeing and as a food preservative. In Japan, it is used for brewing sake, a rice wine. A concoction of the calyx and stem is used to treat respiratory complaints. Persimmon wood is hard and heavy, and has been used to make the heads of golf clubs.