Countryside Scenes: How King of Japanese Dried Fruits “Hoshigaki” Persimmons Are Made
In the Western countries dried fruits are often eaten as-is, or commonly added to cereals, used in granola bars or candies, etc. People might think Japanese people have never had a custom to eat dried fruits, well, that’s not the case.
In recent years dried fruits have become more common in Japan and it is no exaggeration to say that the variety of dried fruits we see now is as many as the variety of fruits. But we had had dried fruits long before the recent change, which Japanese people have enjoyed since ancient times. They are dried jujube (red date) and persimmon.
Have you seen trees laden with many orange-colored fruits in autumn that are not citrus, particularly in the countryside of Japan? Yes, they are persimmons. China produces the largest amount of persimmons in the world, Korea comes next, and Japan ranks the third, thus persimmons are familiar fruits for people in East Asia.
But in recent years persimmons have been increasing in popularity in Europe, and ones to be eaten raw are in circulation, produced in Italy and Israel. In Europe they are sold as “kaki” or “cachi”, and even “cachi” flavored gelato has appeared in Italy as seasonal variety for autumn. If you are currently residing in Europe, can you tell me if I got it right?
Amagaki and Shibugaki (Sweet and Sour Persimmons)
In Japan we have records to indicate that persimmons were eaten regularly in the Nara Period (710-794), thus its history as fruit is old.
Persimmons can be roughly divided into two groups, amagaki and shibugaki (sweet and sour persimmons). In the above photo, the flat one on the left is sweet amagaki and the elongated one on the right is sour shibugaki, therefore you can tell them apart by the shape. But this method of classification by the shape is not foolproof, and that’s the hidden risk in eating a sweet persimmon.
The difference between sweet and sour persimmons is whether tannin, the bitter compound, is water-soluble or not, whether tannin dissolves in the mouth and bitterness is to be felt or not. If you have had an experience of eating sour shibugaki accidentally, you must know that the bitter taste of tannin won’t go away easily by gargling. As sweet persimmon is said to be a mutation of sour persimmon, persimmons could have been a bitter fruit for people in ancient times.
Several ways to eat sour persimmon are available in addition to drying, and they include waiting for them to ripen, or pickling them in alcohol to remove the tannin. When sour persimmon actually ripens, it is as sweet as mangoes.
How to Eat Amagaki Sweet Persimmon
Sweet persimmons are peeled and eaten. Some persimmons offer crispy in texture like a firm apple and when they are ripe they become so soft that they need to be scooped by a spoon. When you have a chance to eat a sweet persimmon, try it after waiting for it to reach your favorite ripeness.
How to Make Hoshigaki Dried Persimmons
Step 1: Pick Persimmons from the tree
In order to pick shibugaki sour persimmons from the tree, I usually use a bamboo pole with a forked end or pruning shears. The fruits are usually high on the tree, and harvesting is not easy. This time I climbed up a stepladder and obtained fruits from higher locations. The very important point is to harvest fruits without damaging them; don’t let them fall to the ground after you cut them off from the branches. If you can rely on your partner to be a team player and catch the fallen fruits midair using a basket, harvesting will go very smoothly.
Step 2: Peel off the Skin
When I peel a persimmon, I start around the calyx and continue in a spiral manner to peel the whole. Never peel the pointed end that is directly opposite to the calyx. Apparently this black point helps maintain the shape of persimmon if left alone.
Step 3: String and Hang the Persimmons
After being peeled, persimmons are to be stringed. If you leave the twig attached to the calyx in a T shape when you harvest them, fixing persimmons to the string will be easy.
On each twine we hang about 10 persimmons. Hoshigaki dried persimmons are sometimes called “tsurushigaki (hanged persimmons)” because of this production method. Sometimes they are skewered and used as a decoration on kagamimochi, New Year’s celebratory mochi (rice cake).
When you start drying persimmons before the temperature becomes cold, they often get moldy. Some people dip them in hot water for a few seconds after stringing to avoid this.
Step 4: Dry Them
This time I used old-fashioned straw twines to hang persimmons, and they look beautiful, too. When they are dried in a place away from rain, raw persimmons gradually change into hoshigaki dried persimmons by wind and coldness.
Step 5: Completion!
These hoshigaki are complete. So long as they are no longer bitter, hoshigaki can be eaten even when they are still soft. We often see white-powdered hoshigaki, but the white powder is not mold; it is crystalized sugar. Thus when hoshigaki is powdered white, it is very sweet.
It will take approximately 3 weeks for the drying process to be complete, but it varies by a few days depending on the air temperature and how windy the place is. Again similar to sweet amagaki, please enjoy it when the dryness comes to your favorite stage.
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