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January 12, 2011

Ode to the Cachi/Kaki/Caqui aka the Persimmon

Christmas has come and gone, and if you're like me, it's probably the highlight of your winter. I'm not a snowbunny by any means, and hate driving in it, too. But there are a few winter foods - traditionally eaten by Italians - that I treasure every single year. Unlike Christmas, you can get these delicious items for a month, at least. Today, I'll tell you about my favourite winter fruit.

The Cachi [KA-KEE]

If you are a non-Italian, you may notice your Italian friends or colleagues biting into what looks like an orange tomato, come late November through January. It's not an apple, it's not a tomato or an orange - it's a persimmon. And before you knock it, you gotta try it. 
Persimmons, or Cachi, are enjoyed around the world

I decided to do some research on this yummy, juicy fruit I enjoy so much. It's proper name is Diospyros Kaki (which explains why we call it this!). It's also known as a Persimmon, Japanese Persimmon or Asian Persimmon. It's grown on trees and has been cultivated in Asia for centuries. In China, the fruit dates back about 2000 years. Apparently, there is an abundance of Kaki trees in Italy, and while Italians don't cook with the fruit, they do enjoy it through the winter months.

So what does it taste like? The fruit inside is jelly-like and soft. It's naturally very sweet and fibrous. As it ripens it gets softer and quite mushy. For some, the texture can be concerning, but I love the sweet soft taste and feel.

If you've never had a persimmon, beware! There are a few varieties that need to be explained. The species of persimmon (photographed above) is known as the astringent variety. The fruit has a high tannin content - which means - and here's the important part - you shouldn't eat it if it's not ripe. Do not bite into immature fruit! If you do eat a firm astringent persimmon, you will never, and I say never, want to pick up another one again. Such a disappointment. It will suck all the saliva out of your mouth and make your lips pucker and suck your inner cheeks together. It'll leave you tasting like you've eaten sawdust. (That's what my colleague told me when she decided to experiment with the fruit I told her I loved so much :)) Don't worry if you don't like it - it's not for everyone, and could be an acquired taste for some.

To ripen the cachi, you can store them in a paper bag with an apple in a cool, dark place. Once you eat a ripe persimmon, there's no going back. It's juicy like a mango, soft and tender like jello and sweet like honey.

Luckily, there are non-astringent persimmons on the market that are sweet and you can eat ripe or unripe. Meet, the Sharon Fruit, or as I call it, The Hard Cachi.

Sharon Fruit can be eaten like an apple. It's crunchy, yet sweet.
Sharon Fruit is a form of kaki from Israel, named after the Plain of Sharon. It's mild and apple-like and unlike the original Persimmon variety, doesn't contain the astringents, so you won't get that puckery, fuzzy taste in your mouth. When they're unripe, they're yellowy-orange in colour, but get brighter and more red as they ripen. Because it's a firmer variety, it's much easier to transport and won't turn to mush in your lunch bag. A definite plus. You can cut this one up into little slivers and share with your friends, or bite into it and enjoy it all for yourself.

And there you have it, folks. So the next time you see someone in the cubicle next to you sucking on an orange fruit, lean over and say "How's that Persimmon?" They will love it. And if you're game, try it. Has Italian food disappointed you before?


1 comment

  1. Oh my goodness! I just hosted a dinner party this weekend and the conversation somehow got to talking about Persimmons! I was telling my friends that when I was working overseas (in Japan), we had a
    "kaki" thief! I'd come home from work and there would be missing persimmons from my fruit bowl on my table. It was the oddest thing! Turns out it was the neighbour's kid who used to go inside my apartment and steal my persimmons! Freaky...and weird!


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