Once upon in time, while strolling around a food market in Rome, my Italian friend jumped from pleasure pointing at a fruit stand.
“Look, these are kaki, I’ve missed eating them so much, let’s get some,” she said.
I reluctantly said yes. At that time, I had still no idea what those bright orange fruits were!
The next scene was back home, touching and trying to peel that fruit. It was super soft with an inner jelly pulp. “How do I eat this?” I wondered. “You have to use a spoon” my friend suggested. I tasted it, and it was very sweet, felt like eating raw honey, heaven!
At some point, a few years after the aforementioned experience, I realized that the fruit is what we know as lotus (λωτός) in Greece.
Soon after it came to my mind the myth of the Lotus Eaters from Odyssey. During the travel back to Ithaca, Odysseus and his companions ended up on a small island where those mysterious people were living. The island had plenty of lotus plants and according to the myth the fruits had narcotic effects, bringing bliss and apathy to the eaters.
Odysseus struggled to keep his companions away from the fruits. Still, he lost some of them who couldn’t resist eating the fruits, reaching a state of nirvana and amnesia that prevented them from leaving the island.
That made sense to me, considering the heavenly feeling I’ve experienced eating the fruit. However, historians think that the fruit of the Lotus Eaters couldn’t be the kaki since it was brought to the Mediterranean from Asia much later. Also, ancient Greeks called Lotus several species.
I had a similar confusion once while trying to describe this fruit to a colleague from India. I said lotus and he told me that this name denotes instead an aquatic plant very popular in India and generally in Asia. I did some research afterward and realized what was the case. He meant what commonly is known as a water lily, something completely different from Kaki. So, back to our bright orange fruit. In Greece, we call it lotus but worldwide is known as persimmon or kaki. The first denotes the edible fruit of several species of trees of the genus Diospyros, while the second refers to the most widely cultivated species, namely the Diospyros kaki.
The second time in my life I ate kaki was in Germany. One day, in the supermarket, I noticed it in the fruit section. I got excited and bought some but this time they were somehow different. They were not as ripe and soft as the ones in Rome. I thought they might need some more days to ripen. I waited but nothing really changed. I decided to peel and eat one. It was perfectly edible, also tasty but not so sweet as the first time. That confused me again!
It took me many years, basically only last month I managed to solve the mystery!
During this period, the food market in Ioannina was full of Kaki. Given the chance, I had plenty of time and materials to explore, taste, and learn about them. George, a botanist and good friend of mine helped me to understand that what I had eaten in the two instances were different kaki varieties. He explained to me also how to distinguish those varieties.
Among all the varieties, the most common ones, cultivated and sold in markets are of two types, and they differ in shape and astringency. They are widely known by their Japanese names. For instance, what we consider in Greece as the “common Kaki” belongs mostly to the Hachiya variety, has a more intense orange color, and a shape reminiscent of a heart.
If you try to eat it when not fully mature you’ll experience a very unpleasant feeling. Hachiya kaki is very astringent because of its high content of tannins, which cause the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat to shrink. You will simply feel your mouth completely dry, your face will show signs of disgust, and your impulsive reaction will be spitting it.
Even if you force yourself to swallow it you run the risk of causing bigger problems to your body. That is because shibuol, a specific tannin in this kaki interacts with the acidic gastric fluids forming an undigested hard/woody ball inside the gastrointestinal tract, known as bezoar, which is difficult to get rid of.
So, to consume and enjoy this variety you have to get it or let it become overripen, to the point that the pulp becomes super soft with a jelly consistency, something like a marmalade. At this point, most of the tannins are gone and the astringent character disappears, giving its place to the sweet, honey-like taste. Because of its consistency, the best way to eat it is by scooping it out with a spoon.
On the other hand, other typical kaki varieties, like the Fuyu and Jiro, are a completely different story. They don’t contain much tannins and can be easily consumed also when hard and not really ripe. In that case, you simply peel it like an apple and eat it or use it in recipes as such. You could also let it ripe and soften so as to turn sweeter.
Now, the important question is how to distinguish which variety is which?
Fortunately, this is pretty easy, the kaki itself, particularly the shape of its bottom will give you the answer!
Astringent varieties like Hachiya have a round bottom, while non-astringent have a flat one.
Simply by placing each of them on a table, the first will slide to the side failing to stand still, while the second will remain as such, with the top looking upwards.
Personally, I prefer the overripen versions, I cannot resist to the sweet taste of the pulp, which I can use it without further ado in many preparations. For example, on top of my sourdough pancakes, or as an ingredient of a very easy-to-make, no-knead, sourdough bread, similar to my version of banana bread.
No-Knead Sourdough Kaki Bread
(for a 24x9x7cm loaf tin)
350g all-purpose flour
200g active sourdough
150g kaki pulp (2-3 fully ripen kaki)
50g olive oil
some pieces of chopped kaki (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix with a spoon/spatula until a homogenous, wet dough is formed.
(It should have the consistency of a pourable, cake batter. If not, you might need to adjust slightly the amount of water and/or flour)
- Pour the mix into the loaf tin and optionally add for decoration purposes some chopped kaki on the top.
- Cover it and let it ferment for ca. 3-5 hours until the mix starts rising and it bounces back when finger-poked.
- Bake for an hour, at 180 °C.
- When out of the oven, brush the top surface with olive oil to give some shine!