Winter is here, temperatures are low, and an exotic vacation is on everyone’s mind. It’s no wonder that December is Exotic Fruits Month. While we embrace all fruits (exotic or not), we decided to celebrate this month with the Japanese persimmon. Bursting with flavor and nutrients, persimmons can add an exotic and healthful twist to your favorite recipes and snacks.

History: Japanese persimmons, or Diospyros kaki L., are native to Japan, China, and India. (The American native persimmon, Diospyros virginiana L., is a different and less widely eaten fruit.) Cultivation has spread nearly worldwide, and seeds were first brought to the US in 1856. Though there are many persimmon varieties, the most common types you will find in stores are the nonastringent Fuyu (shaped like a tomato and best for snacking and cooking) and the astringent Hachiya (oblong shaped and better for jams and baking). Hachiya persimmons are chalky and tart until fully ripened – almost to jelly – while Fuyu persimmons are sweeter and can be eaten when firm.

Nutrition: At just 118 calories, a Japanese persimmon packs in 6 g fiber and is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and manganese. Studies have shown persimmons are loaded with antioxidants that may ward off signs of aging and contain bioactive compounds that can improve cardiovascular health. Fiber from persimmons may also help lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids that stimulate cholesterol release from the gallbladder. Interestingly, a study in mice showed that adding persimmons to a high fat, high calorie holiday-style diet reduced the rise of total cholesterol by 25%, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 10%.

How to Eat: Persimmons can be enjoyed cooked or raw in both sweet and savory dishes. Create an exotic persimmon salsa or replace tomatoes with persimmons for a unique twist on Caprese salad. Add sautéed or raw persimmons to any green salad; mix with quinoa or bulgur; or enjoy on top of oatmeal.  Ripened Hachiya persimmons can be stirred into oats and yogurt or used to flavor smoothies. Roast persimmons and mix with whole wheat pasta and arugula for a hearty winter meal, or toss with mushrooms and kale for a unique and colorful side. As for snacks? Eat the Fuyu persimmon just as you would an apple. Juicy, sweet, and flavorful, they’re simply delicious on their own.

Published December 1, 2014