American persimmon trees (Diospyros virginiana) are famed for their fall-ripening fruit, which are technically berries. However, the seeds also have culinary uses — with a few important caveats. In this article, you’ll find out how to use American persimmon seeds in the kitchen.
Every forager or hiker on the east coast is likely familiar with American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana). In the late summer through fall, the deep orange fruit drops to the ground, often ending up as an inedible blob of goop after falling from the tall canopies and splattering on to the ground below.
Due to the high degree of genetic diversity in the species, some persimmon trees will produce deliciously sweet fruit before a frost. Meanwhile, another tree a few hundred yards away will have fruit that will turn your mouth inside out with puckery tannins. The key: get to know your local American persimmon trees and when the fruit is ripe.
Eureka! Edible American persimmon seeds…
This year, after processing a pile of American persimmon seeds to make an American persimmon pie with maple whipped cream and chestnut flour crust (which was every bit as good as it sounds), we had a large pile of American persimmon seeds.
Usually, we just take seeds from native plants like pawpaws and persimmons out on our hikes and put them in the ground in ideal spots so that we, our son, and future generations might eventually enjoy the fruit. However, curiosity got the better of us and we wondered if the seeds might have culinary or medicinal uses.
The answer: yes, American persimmon seeds are indeed edible, but there is sparse information about how to use them, what medicinal qualities they might have, and/or any information about interactions/risks to consider for someone taking medications.
Hopefully, medical researchers might be able to fill the gaps in our knowledge in the near future. Until then…
Precautions when eating a new food (including American persimmon seeds)
Even if you know a food is edible (example: duck eggs or maitake mushrooms), it’s always best to exercise caution the first time you eat it, especially if you have other known food allergies. For any food, there is someone out there with an allergy — potentially severe — and it’s always smart to only have a small amount of a new food until you know whether you’ll have an averse reaction to it.
The same is true with American persimmon seeds: treat them like medicine. The first time you ingest them, go very sparingly until you’re confident you don’t have a negative reaction.
How do you use persimmon seeds?
As best we can gather, American persimmon seeds were used by Native Americans medicinally, although the various uses are likely lost to history and their efficacy has never been determine by modern scientific research.
Persimmons seeds are most commonly known in recent history as a coffee filler or substitute, which is how they were used by troops during the Civil War when coffee imports were blocked. In fact, in 1863, the Montgomery Weekly Advertiser (in Alabama) stated:
“the seeds of the persimmon when roasted and ground produces a beverage which cannot, even by old and experienced coffee drinkers, be distinguished from genuine coffee.”
Interestingly, roasted chicory root was also used to stretch or replace coffee. (Chicory root coffee is still a popular beverage in New Orleans to this day.)
Before using persimmon seeds, you need to:
- roast them on 350F in an oven for about 20-30 minutes,
- let them cool,
- grind them into a powder.
Not so easy to do, as you’ll read below…
What do persimmon seeds taste like?
If you bite into a persimmon seed, you’re likely to chip a tooth and not extract any flavor. The seeds are hard as rocks.
In fact, we sacrificed a perfectly good coffee grinder for you in the process of writing this article:
Our coffee grinder can grind coffee beans into powder in about 5-10 seconds. When trying to grind persimmon seeds, it sounded like it was chewing on nails. After about 30 seconds, I turned it off to have a peak inside: the seeds had dented the metal interior and chipped the plastic cover. (Thankfully, I was able to sift out the plastic chunks.)
(Legal disclaimer (ha!): by reading this article, you accept sole responsibility for any damage your persimmon seeds do to your coffee grinder.)
From there, a couple scoops of our roasted, powdered persimmon seeds were made into a tea. Next the taste test…
Our persimmon seeds produced a tea that tasted nutty, earthy, and slightly bitter. Nope, it doesn’t taste like coffee, in our opinion (which apparently differs from the Montgomery Weekly Advertiser).
Next, we added a touch of stevia to sweeten our persimmon seed tea. Then the flavor — which we were trying to place — became immediately apparent: persimmon seed tea tastes almost exactly like chicory root tea, which is interesting considering they were both historically used interchangeably as a coffee filler or substitute.
Now, it just so happens that chicory root tea is one of our favorite teas, so we’re thrilled to have another use for our excess persimmon seeds. Similar to the way they were used in the Civil War, powdered persimmon seeds might best be used as an addition to coffee rather than a standalone tea — you be the judge.
If the seeds are too hard for your coffee grinder, you can also use them as buttons on your clothing, another popular use during the Civil War!
Do persimmon seeds contain caffeine?
Persimmon seeds might make a good cup of tea or coffee additive, but they do NOT contain caffeine. So if you’re looking for a caffeinated coffee substitute, persimmon seeds aren’t it.
For your caffeine fix, we’d recommend you instead grow yaupon holly, the only native plant in the US that contains caffeine.
Recipe: Roasted persimmon seed tea
Persimmon seed tea
A robust nutty, earthy, slightly bitter tea that can be consumed as-is or used as a coffee additive.
- 1 tbsp powdered, roasted persimmon seeds
- 1 cup hot water (just below boiling)
- sweetener to taste (we used stevia)
Pour hot water over roasted, powdered persimmon seeds, then let steep about 5-10 minutes. Strain, pour into cups, sweeten, and serve!
Remember: 1) Only use a small amount of persimmon seeds the first time you try them to make sure you don’t have any averse effects, and 2) Be mindful the seeds are rock hard so a heavy-duty coffee grinder will work best.
We enjoyed our persimmon seed tea with a morning bowl of chestnut porridge topped with pan-roasted Japanese persimmons. Forest and garden-to-table goodness!
Dive deeper into your persimmon addiction with these articles:
- Japanese vs. American persimmons: growing, foraging, eating
- Recipe: American persimmon pie with maple whipped cream and chestnut flour crust
- Recipe: Chestnut porridge with pan-roasted Japanese persimmons