By Noris Ledesma, Curator of Tropical Fruit
The chocolate persimmon is native to the dry forests of central Mexico. I remember it well in the markets of Michoacán,where the fruit is known well and highly appreciated. They often use the fruit by itself but they sometimes mix the pulp with wine, cinnamon and sugar and serve as dessert.
The Chocolate persimmon (Diospyros digyna), a member of the persimmon family, is native along both coasts of Mexico from Jalisco to Chiapas, Veracruz and Yucatan. Outside of Mexico it is cultivated in the Philippines and the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Hawaii and of course Florida. It is also call Black sapote, chocolate pudding fruit.
It is an attractive evergreen tree, 25 ft or more at maturity. Most of the chocolate persimmon fruit in South Florida ripen in October through March in a time when we have few tropical fruits to enjoy. Because there are both male and female trees when grown from seed it is preferable to use grafted trees, which can bear within 3 years.
Selecting a tree:
Chocolate persimmon trees should be planted in full sun for best growth and fruit production. Select a part of the landscape away from other trees, buildings and structures, and power lines. ‘Merida’ is a grafted variety that can be locally purchased from specialty nurseries. This variety produces a superior quality fruit in November, which is much earlier than other selections, and extends the season for 6 to 8 weeks (November – January).
Newly planted chocolate persimmon trees should be watered at planting and every second or third day for the first couple of months. Once the rainy season arrives, irrigation should be stopped. Mature chocolate persimmon trees do not need frequent watering and over watering may cause trees to decline or be unthrifty. Mulching is a great practice for almost any fruit tree in South Florida. It helps retain soil moisture, reduces weed problems and improves the soil. Mulch with a 2- to 6- inch layer of bark, wood chips, or similar mulch material. Keep mulch 8 to 12 inches from the trunk.
Remember that chocolate persimmon fruit can become large if not pruned to contain their size. Formative pruning during the first 2 years is recommended to encourage lateral branching and growth. After several years of production, it is desirable to cut back the tops of the trees to 10 feet. Selectively removing a few upper limbs each year will help prevent the loss of the lower tree canopy due to shading. In addition, maintaining a smaller tree facilitates tree care and fruit harvest, and greatly reduces possible storm damage.
Chocolate persimmon trees are not demanding in its fertilizer requirements. After planting, when new growth begins, apply a half to full handful of 8-3-9 or similar fruit tree fertilizer mix. The fertilizer should be sprinkled lightly below the drip-line of the canopy three times per year. Take care not to apply the fertilizer near the trunk.
About the fruit:
The chocolate persimmon’s shape is that of a green tomato. The flesh is dark brown or black, rich and sweet in flavor. The fruit are picked when full size but unripe (olive-green color) and allowed to ripen in 10 days at room temperature. The fruit is soft when fully ripe. The fruit can be used fresh or frozen. Ripe fruit will store for 3 or 4 days under refrigeration. For longer storage, (6 months) pulp should be removed from the fruit and frozen.
Chocolate persimmon fruit are rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and have a relatively high amount of potassium. This tropical fruit is a distinctive element of South Florida cuisine, but must be fully soft before consumption or use. The fruit by itself has a bland flavor, and its brilliant gel texture develops caramel flavors when cooked, making it a great base and desirable filling for pies and other pastry. It is also made into ice cream.
Tips using the chocolate persimmon fruit: