Monday, October 29, 2012

감 - Persimmons

Persimmons are in season in Korea! There are two kinds here, both of which I love.

단감 (dangam) are sweet persimmons. They are small and flat, and look like orange tomatoes. These can be eaten before they are fully ripe, when they have a crisp texture and a mild sweetness.

홍시 (hongsi) are astringent persimmons. They are larger, shaped like acorns, and usually have a deeper hue than sweet persimmons. They must be left to ripen completely, attaining a pudgy, bulbous peel surrounding the pulpy, syrupy and delicious meat inside. (These are the kind that I grew up on.) Unfortunately, if you eat a hongsi before it is fully ripe, it tastes bitter and leaves your mouth feeling fuzzy and dry. This is the tannin at work, shrinking the salivary glands in your mouth and leaving a rather unpleasant feeling. Tannins -- a natural astringent -- are also found in banana peels and in some wines and teas.
홍시! Koreans also eat them dried, like Taiwanese and Japanese. They also ice them to make a kind of persimmon water ice, which is new for me. (LOL: as soon as I wrote the above sentence, my host mother popped into my room to hand me some iced persimmon on a plate. 무슨 우연이람!)
Another name I've heard to refer to hongsi is 떫은감 (ddeolbeungam), or simply 떨감 (ddeolgam). This literally translates to "astringent (bitter) persimmon". I like knowing this obscure vocabulary word, but I think I prefer 홍시, since it is related to the Taiwanese word I use for this fruit:

홍시 (hongsi) --> 紅柿 (hóngshì) --> angkhi
(Note: the common Mandarin word for persimmon is 柿子 (shìzi), not 紅柿.)

Some random facts: the English word persimmon comes from the name of the fruit in an Algonquian (Native American) language which means "dry fruit". They probably didn't wait for them to ripen enough before naming eating them! Also, persimmons are, botanically speaking, berries. So are tomatoes. I've been thinking about how long it's been since I've even seen (much less eaten) a strawberry, blueberry, or raspberry since coming to Korea... I guess persimmons will have to suffice.

감이 아주 맛있어요!