Friday, May 15, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Persimmons

     I’d heard of persimmons for many years, but I never had the chance to try them until I was in rural Wysox, Pennsylvania, of all places, in the same grocery (Tops) where I first had cherimoya (see November 15, 2014 post).  Each individual one is about the size of a large apple, and they have smooth skins which are a yellowish/reddish/orange color.  As with tomatoes, whose skin is similar in look and feel to the persimmon, these fruits are technically berries, although most folks don’t categorize them in that way.  Persimmons are native to much of Asia, Southwest Europe, and the U.S.  The name I’m using for them is derived from a Native American word for “dry fruit.”
     Persimmons are known for their astringent flavor.  Even the more mild varieties are considered to be a little harsh tasting when they’re unripe.  Having learned this, I dutifully aged my persimmon for a few days.  When properly ripe they’re supposed to be quite soft, and are often eaten with a spoon after being cut open, like a natural pudding.  Alas, either I didn’t age mine enough, or else I’m just not into persimmons period.  It was juicy, but the flavor was weird.  A friend found it chalky, and I agreed.  It was sweetish, but not that great.  In short, I’m not tempted to try it again, even if I was more careful to age it the right amount of time.  They are, as I recall, not too expensive, though—I think mine was about $2 or so.
     There is, however, one interesting aspect of the persimmon—what it does in the stomach.  It’s packed with a tannin called shibuol that reacts oddly to stomach acids, and can coagulate into a gluey mass.  This mass, called a diospyrobezoar, which is a type of phytobezoar, can grow until it causes pain, nausea, vomiting, gastric obstruction, and even perforation.  Treatments include ingestion of meat tenderizer, or Coca-Cola, to dissolve the mass, or the use of lasers to break it up.  In extreme cases surgery may even be necessary.
     Bezoars, which are the umbrella term for all types of trapped masses in the gastrointestinal system, have a funny history.  People used to think that they had magical properties—the most common idea being that they protected a person against poisons.  Evidently they can provide some protection against arsenic, but not completely, and they’re useless against other poisons.  Before this was proven scientifically, though, people used to pay large sums for disgusting growths from peoples’, or animals’ stomachs and digestive tracts (and some may still do).  Just to add more info, phytobezoars are composed of undigested plant parts, like seeds, skin, fibers, etc.  Other types of bezoars are caused by undigested milk, drug tablets, soil, gum, and even hair.
     I was also strangely amused to see that Coca-Cola was of medical use in dissolving the diospyrobezoars.  I only saw Coke mentioned, and not other sodas, or even other cola flavored beverages, like Pepsi, RC, etc.  Why is Coke so special?  I’d like to find out.  But I’d love to see Coke use that attribute as a ridiculously specific, rare ad slogan.  Something like, “Have a Coke and a smile, because you know your painful and repulsive stomach growths are getting smaller!”
     But, now that I may have scared you off of persimmons, with all the talk about awful stomach “pearls,” you should know that getting them is rare.  Basically, unless you eat them daily, especially unripe ones (which have more of the tannin), you’ll probably be fine.  Although it is recommended that you don’t eat persimmons on an empty stomach, to save you some possible mild upset.
     Given my disdain for this fruit, now I’m very confident that my tombstone won’t contain the line, “Died when his diospyrobezoar burst through this stomach, reminding onlookers of that infamous scene from ‘Alien.’”


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