PLUMS AND PRUNES There are few fruits that come in such a panorama of colors as the juicy sweet tasting plum. The plum season extends from May through October with the Japanese varieties first on the market from May and peaking in August followed by the European varieties in the fall.Plums belong to the Prunus genus of plants and are relatives of the peach, nectarine and almond. They are all considered "drupes," fruits that have a hard stone pit surrounding their seeds.
Prunes are the dried version of European plums. In the United States, through, you may not see the term "prunes" used as frequently as before, as this fruit items recently had its name officially changed to "dried plum." Sweet with a deep taste and a sticky chewy texture, prunes are not only fun to eat but they are also highly nutritious. As with other dried fruits, they are available year round.
Health BenefitsSignificant Antioxidant Protection from PhenolsThe fresh version (plums) and the dried version (prunes) of the plant scientifically known as Prunus domesticahave been the subject of repeated health research for their high content of unique phytonutrients called neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. These substances found in plum and prune are classified as phenols, and their function as antioxidants has been well-documented. These damage-preventing substances are particularly effective in neutralizing a particularly dangerous oxygen radical called superoxide anion radical, and they have also been shown to help prevent oxygen-based damage to fats. Since our cell membranes, brain cells and molecules such as cholesterol are largely composed of fats, preventing free radical damage to fats is no small benefit.
Better Iron Absorption Plus More Antioxidant Protection from Vitamin CThe ability of plums and prunes to increase absorption of iron into the body has also been documented in published research. This ability of plums and prunes to make iron more available may be related to the vitamin C content of this fruit. Our food ranking system qualified plums as a very good source of vitamin C.
In addition to assisting with absorption of iron, vitamin C is needed in the body to make healthy tissue and is also needed for a strong immune system. Getting a little extra vitamin C around cold and flu season is a good idea, and may also be helpful for people who suffer from recurrent ear infections. Vitamin C also helps to protect cholesterol from becoming oxidized by free radicals. Since oxidized cholesterol is the kind that builds up in the arteries and causes damage to blood vessels, some extra vitamin C can be helpful for people who suffer from atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. In addition, vitamin C can help neutralize free radicals that could otherwise contribute to the development or progression of conditions like asthma, colon cancer, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, so vitamin C may be able to help those who are at risk or suffering from these conditions. Owing to the multitude of vitamin C's health benefits, it is not surprising that research has shown that consumption of vegetables and fruits high in this nutrient is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Normalizing Blood Sugar Levels and Helping with Weight LossPrunes' soluble fiber helps normalize blood sugar levels by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach and by delaying the absorption of glucose (the form in which sugar is transported in the blood) following a meal. Soluble fiber also increases insulin sensitivity and can therefore play a helpful role in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. And, prunes' soluble fiber promotes a sense of satisfied fullness after a meal by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach, so prunes can also help prevent overeating and weight gain.
Prunes' Fiber for Regularity, Lower Cholesterol, & Intestinal ProtectionPrunes are well known for their ability to prevent constipation. In addition to providing bulk and decreasing the transit time of fecal matter, thus decreasing the risk of colon cancer and hemorrhoids, prunes' insoluble fiber also provides food for the "friendly" bacteria in the large intestine. When these helpful bacteria ferment prunes' insoluble fiber, they produce a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid, which serves as the primary fuel for the cells of the large intestine and helps maintain a healthy colon. These helpful bacteria also create two other short-chain fatty acids, propionic and acetic acid, which are used as fuel by the cells of the liver and muscles.
The propionic acid produced from prunes' insoluble fiber may also be partly responsible for the cholesterol-lowering properties of fiber. In animal studies, propionic acid has been shown to inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol by the liver. By lowering the activity of this enzyme, propionic acid helps lower blood cholesterol levels.
In addition, prunes' soluble fibers help to lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body via the feces. Bile acids are compounds used to digest fat that are manufactured by the liver from cholesterol. When they are excreted along with prunes' fiber, the liver must manufacture new bile acids and uses up more cholesterol, thus lowering the amount of cholesterol in circulation. Soluble fiber may also reduce the amount of cholesterol manufactured by the liver.
Lastly, the insoluble fiber provided by prunes feed friendly bacteria in the digestive tract, which helps to maintain larger populations of friendly bacteria. In addition to producing the helpful short-chain fatty acids described above, friendly bacteria play an important protective role by crowding out pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and preventing them from surviving in the intestinal tract.
Description One of the unique things about plums is that there are so many varieties available. Not only do over 2,000 varieties of plums exist, but over 100 are available in the United States alone. So, if you are looking for a juicy, sweet tasting fruit that comes in a panorama of colors, plums are for you.
Plums are classified into six general categories—Japanese, American, Damson, Ornamental, Wild and European/Garden—whose size, shape and colors vary. Although usually round, plums can also be oval or heart-shaped. The skins of plums can be red, purple, blue-black, red, green, yellow or amber, while their flesh comes in hues such as yellow, green and pink and orange—a virtual rainbow.
Plums belong to the Prunus genus of plants and are relatives of the peach, nectarine and almond. They are all considered "drupes," fruits that have a hard stone pit surrounding their seeds. When plums are dried, they become the fruit we know as prunes.
Prunes are nutritious fruits that are extremely fun to eat since they have a sweet, deep taste and a sticky, chewy texture. Prunes are actually dried plums, more specifically the dried version of European plums, including the Agen variety.
Unfortunately for the delicious and quite beneficial prune, its name has acquired a somewhat negative connotation, being associated with wrinkles, old age and sluggish gastrointestinal tracts. As our Health Benefits section shows, nothing could be further from the truth. To give prunes some PR that may help overcome this stigma and to promote prunes to their rightful place in the American diet, they have been informally christened with another name, a name that reflects their heritage . . . the "dried plum."
HistoryWith the large number of plums available, it is not surprising that the various types have different heritages and places of origin. The European plum is thought to have been discovered around two thousand years ago, originating in the area near the Caspian Sea. Even in ancient Roman times, there were already over 300 varieties of European plums. European plums made their way across the Atlantic Ocean with the pilgrims, who introduced them into the United States in the 17th century.
While Japanese plums actually originated in China, they derived their name from the country where much of their cultivation and development occurred. Japanese plums were introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century. Today, the United States, Russia, China and Romania are among the main producers of commercially grown plums.
The process of drying plums to make prunes is thought to have originated thousands of years ago in an area near the Caspian Sea, the same region where the prune-producing European plums originated. They spread throughout Europe with the migration of different cultures and civilizations.
The process of drying plums to produce prunes took hold in California, now the leading producer of prunes worldwide, in the mid-19th century when Louis Pellier planted grafted plum tree cuttings brought back with him from his native France. Among these trees were those belonging to the Agen variety, the type of plum that is extremely well suited to be dried to make prunes.
Tips for Preparing and CookingTips for Preparing PlumsPlums are delicious eaten as is. If the plums have been in the refrigerator, allow them to approach room temperature before eating them as this will help them attain the maximum juiciness and sweetness. If you want to first remove the pit before eating or cooking, cut the plum in half lengthwise, gently twist the halves in opposite directions and then carefully take out the pit.
Plums can also be used in a variety of recipes and are usually baked or poached. If you want to remove the skin, this process can be made easier by first blanching the plum in boiling water for 30 seconds. Once you remove the fruits from the water, quickly run them under cold water before peeling to stop the blanching process and allow for easier handling.
Tips for Preparing PrunesIf you have prunes that are extremely dry, soaking them in hot water for a few minutes will help to refresh them. If you are planning on cooking the prunes, soaking them in water or juice beforehand will reduce the cooking time.
How to EnjoyPLUMSA Few Quick Serving Ideas
Make pizza with a twist by broiling sliced plums, goat cheese, walnuts and sage on top of a whole wheat pita bread or pizza crust.
For a delightful dessert, poach plums in a red wine and serve with lemon zest.
Bake pitted plum halves in a 200°F(93°C) oven until they are wrinkled. Then mix them into a rye bread recipe for a scrumptiously sweet and hardy bread.
Blend stewed plums and combine with yogurt and honey for wonderful cold soup.
Add plum slices to cold cereal.
PRUNESA Few Quick Serving Ideas
Serve stewed prunes with rosemary-scented braised lamb and enjoy this Middle Eastern inspired meal.
Serve stewed or soaked prunes on top of pancakes and waffles.
Combine diced dried prunes with other dried fruits and nuts to make homemade trail mix.
Prunes make a delicious addition to poultry stuffing.