Hoshigaki at Zero George Restaurant

Hanna Raskin/Staff

Meet hoshigaki

Leading up to Christmas in Charleston, it’s not just stockings that get hung by the chimney with care. During persimmon season, chefs tack the strung-up fruit to their walls and rafters to make hoshigaki, a chewy dried treat.

Learn its backstory

In Japan, where persimmons are prevalent, eaters know better than to eat them fresh off the tree. Instead, according to tradition, they air-dry the fruit to create what Saveur has called “the Kobe beef of healthy snacks.”

That designation doesn’t have anything to do with the fruit’s flavor. Instead, it’s a reference to the special treatment the persimmons receive. Once hung on the receiving end of sunlight, the peeled persimmons are left alone for a few days, and then gently massaged on a daily basis for six weeks or so. The rationale behind the massages involves the conjuring of sugars concealed within the fruit, and the smoothing of its skin: If an aging persimmon wrinkles, the folds are at risk of developing mold. The goal instead is to produce what looks like a powdered sack of ochre-hued sweetness.

Also like Kobe beef, hoshigaki isn’t cheap. It retails for about $40 a pound, which is why many chefs opt for the DIY approach: Last winter, The San Francisco Chronicle declared hoshigaki the season’s “breakout social media star.” Another alternative is to purchase Korean or Chinese versions of the delicacy: Because gotgam and shibing are dried in baskets without intervention by a masseuse, they sell for one-tenth the price of hoshigaki.

But there are problems associated with snubbing the Japanese variety. Slow Food USA has entered hoshigaki in its Ark of Taste, meaning the labor-intensive process is in danger of extinction.

Hoshigaki can figure into a sauce or compote, but because of the work required to produce it, it’s most commonly just sliced and served.

And order it here

Zero George Restaurant last month was in the midst of processing persimmons, but hoshigaki also makes regular appearances at McCrady’s. It’s not a standard menu item anywhere in town, so it's worth calling ahead if you’re determined to try it.

— Hanna Raskin

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Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.