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Legend has it that persimmons may hold the power to predict the weather of the coming winter. If you split the seeds of this autumn fruit, a white marking in one of three shapes is revealed: a knife shape, which supposedly forecasts a cold, "cutting" winter; a fork shape that means a mild season; and a spoon shape that represents lots of snow shoveling. More reliably, the persimmon is known for delivering an intensely sweet flavor, along with an impressive bite of nutrients.

There are hundreds of varieties of persimmons, but the Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is what we see most in the U.S. Of the two Japanese types that dominate the market, the acorn-shaped Hachiya is most common. Like many persimmons, this variety is highly astringent (due to many tannins) if eaten before it is fully ripened to a very soft flesh. Except for its orange hue, the tomato-shaped, nonastringent and firm fuyu is quite different. Rich in antioxidants like beta-carotene, which turns into vitamin A in the body, one persimmon delivers 55 percent DV (Daily Value) of this vision-protecting vitamin, as well as 30 percent DV of bone-healthy manganese and 24 percent DV of filling dietary fiber.

The fiber in young persimmons contains tannins, which contain agents that may lower blood cholesterol levels. A study in a 2013 issue of Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, in which participants consumed the tannin-rich fiber from young persimmons, showed lowered total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. While a diet high in fruits and vegetables may protect against thyroid cancer, in particular, persimmons showed a protective effect on thyroid cancer risk, according to a 2013 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.

Available October through January, persimmons with the deepest color of the setting sun are best. It may be wise to purchase Hachiyas a bit under-ripe and allow them to fully soften at home, but fuyus may be firm or give slightly to pressure. Ripen at room temperature, then refrigerate up to three days.

Enjoy Hachiyas in a seasonal persimmon pudding, baked into breads, cookies and pancakes or stirred into a warm bowl of whole grain oats or Greek yogurt. Try sliced fuyus in salads, stir-fry, salsa, dipped into nut butter or yogurt, or eaten like an apple, out of your hand.

Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition. environmentalnutrition.com

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