What comes in mind when thinking about something orange ? As a European you might be thinking about “Holland” (the Netherlands) or oranges. However my first idea what comes to mind is the beautiful Korean autumn, the orange sky of the sunrise, the orange maple tree leaves, … homemade pumpkin porridge, but especially persimmon or gam (감) in Korean.
Before having spent autumn in Korea, a couple of years ago, I didn’t know anything about this fruit, which is actually from Chinese origine and mainly grown in Asia. It was on my first trip to the maple tree festival in Naejangsan that I experienced the taste of a hongsi (홍시) or ripened persimmon. When I came back to Belgium I searched for them in supermarkets and local markets, but I couldn’t really find them. Those we can find in Europe these days are grown in warm Mediterranean countries and they are slightly different.
Gam name (감나무) or Persimmon trees can be seen all over Korea, whether on farms, at temples or even in small private gardens in busy cities. The trees start growing late in spring but their fruits remain on the leafless tree until deep winter. Beside eating gam I love capturing the scenery of a typical Korean rooftop, a cobalt blue sky and beautiful orange persimmons on a tree. That is really Korean autumn to me !
DIFFERENT TYPES OF GAM
Before you start eating persimmons you should known the difference between astringent and non astringent persimmons. Astringency is a kind of rough, dry and bitter taste in your mouth that you can experience after drinking some young red wines or certain tea.
This taste is caused by the tannins in the persimmon.
- Dan gam (단감), is a non astringent persimmon. It is not completely free of tannin but contains less so you can eat it when it is firm without having any bitter taste. Dan gam has a flat rounded shape like a tomato, with a yellow orange color. It is this type of persimmon that is commonly seen in Europe, where they also call it kaki fruit or sharon fruit. When fully ripened it is still edible.
- Hong si (홍시), is an astringent persimmon. It is oval shaped and bigger in size than dan gam. Hong si contains a lot of tannins. Even though they are harvested when they are firm, they are supposed to be eaten when fully ripened. Exposing them to the light starts the ripening process, changing the orange color to almost red. Tannins will disappear, skin and inside become really soft and sweet.
- Got gam (곶감) are dried, peeled gam, flattened and stored like figs.
THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF PERSIMMONS
The local merchant in our village told us that persimmons contain a lot of vitamin A (more than 50%) and C (more than 20%), but also calcium, manganese, anti-oxidants, … It is said that persimmons prevent from lung and mouth cancer. It also helps to reduce high blood pressure and it can lower the alcohol level in your blood. Hong si helps your digestion and can help you to relieve your possible hangover. But there is also a less pleasant side ! Consuming to many persimmons can cause constipation !
Persimmons can be eaten in different ways. Dan gam can be eaten immediately while firm, it is quite hard ( you need some good teeth ) and they are not really my favorite persimmons.
I rather prefer a chilled fully ripened hongsi.
Break the skin with a knife or a spoon, and scoop out the soft and sweet parcels.
It’s that simple and very delicious ! Just be ware of some seeds !
When you freeze it you can eat it whenever you want. Just defreeze it and scoop out as a sorbet.
Koreans use it also as banchan (side dishes) or for making juices, punches and drinks like Sujeonggwa (persimmon juice made with ginger and cinnamon) or in vinegar, gamsikchu.
Persimmons can be found everywhere in Korea. In every supermarket you can find them nicely wrapped, but more expensive. Better deals you can get at a local traditional market, and quite often they will offer you some free persimmons as a service.
The area around JEONG-EUP City, in Jeollabuk-do, is very famous for gam farms.
On our bustrip from Jeongeup bus terminal to Naejangsan we saw at least hundred of merchants to sell their fresh gam next to the road. And at Naejangsa temple we noticed that even monks like this delicious food.
Did you know that Korea even has a “dan gam day” on 4 december ?