'Tis The Season For Hoshigaki Hype Beasts

Do it, but please: don't do it just for the 'gram.

November 27, 2017 ● 3 min read

By Richie Nakano | College ChefsFeed

There are certain chef humblebrags that mark the seasons on Instagram.

Summer means endless bins of heirloom tomatoes at the market; winter might be colorful chicories. Spring is flats of asparagus or handfuls of ramps. Fall seems to be strictly reserved for one thing: hoshigaki, or Japanese massaged and dried persimmons. 

You’ve probably seen them—peeled, hanging from strings, looking like some avant-garde edible mobile. A quick search of #hoshigaki on Instagram brings back over 5000 posts, many of them from some of best chefs in the world. The thing is, most of them are all kinds of wrong.  

Chef Maya Erickson (Lang Baan, Portland, Oregon) has been making and serving hoshigaki on her pastry menus for years now, most recently served folded into koji rice ice cream. Her issues with the hoshigaki craze start in a place deeper than just bad technique. “My issue with it isn't necessarily the hoshigaki," she says. "It's this attitude that Japanese is an easy culture to assimilate into fine dining. That's what people go to when they want to show that they're doing something cool, where it's like making their own umeboshi or miso or whatever.

"Hoshigaki is incredibly visually striking, it's beautiful," she continues, "But it's the perfect representation of people who want to do cool things, but don't necessarily understand the process or the history behind it. There's only so much you can learn from the internet—you see people who haven't even peeled them. They're missing the fundamentals that go behind it." 

Recent #hoshigaki on Instagram.

So what are those missing fundamentals? Most of it comes down to commitment. It's a project that takes at least two or three weeks of careful attention. Erickson gives the short version: once peeled, you hang them and let them sit for a few days. Then, every few days for the next few weeks, you gently massage the fruit's flesh, coaxing the natural sugars to the surface. That's when you get the signature powdery white bloom. 

"In the preservation technique they kind of end up getting a gummy bear chewy texture, which is way different than if you just dehydrate a persimmon. It's a really special texture that can only be achieved by doing this," she explains. "But: it is hard to do correctly. I just fucked up my batch, because I hung them up and then went to Dubai and nobody massaged them. Now they're all black and pointless. And you can’t just dehydrate a persimmon and call it hoshigaki. That’s missing the whole point.”  

The point of hoshigaki, it would seem, is the singular devotion of the process, and the artful patience it requires. "It's about treating the fruit with respect," she says. "A lot of Japanese techniques are about care and about the process of getting there, and you can't rush it. And don't do it for Instagram. Don't do it because the cool kids are doing it. Do it because you actually want to learn the process and you actually care. Caring more about the Instagram photo than the [meaning behind the] process is kind of the perfect representation of what we're at with food culture. That's kind of what's become of our industry."

You wouldn't post a picture of a hot dog and call it a salami. But there are plenty of sad, sad, wrinkled persimmons proudly toted as hoshigaki that are simply, not. Social media is awash in Trophy Hoshigaki, and for chefs who know and respect the ingredient, that can be complicated. 

“I don't mean to rain on anybody's parade," Erickson says. "I totally think that people should research other cultures' food and learn how to make it, but you have to really want to learn how to make it, and you really have to learn the technique and the history and understand it before you can act like you know what you're doing."