Alexander the Great cultivated plum trees in Mediterranean regions as early as 65 BC, although the first plum trees are thought to have originated in China. Plums are a member of the rose family (Rosacea) and are related to peaches, apricots, nectarines, and almonds.
Plum tree cultivation didn’t arrive in the U.S. until the mid-19th century. More than 140 varieties are sold in the U.S., and globally, thousands – mostly Russia, China, and Romania. Varieties include the Santa Rosa, Satsuma, Brooks, and Parsons, as well as lower-case names like yellow egg and green gage. Their smooth skin (which contains valuable antioxidants) comes in varying shades of yellow, green, red, or purple, and the slightly translucent flesh is juicy and sweet, varying in color from yellow to red (the sweetest).
Some plum trees are fruit-bearing and some aren’t. (Interestingly, the fruit-bearers develop little white flowers, while solely ornamental trees get pink flower clusters.) The two main fruit-bearing trees are the European “clingstone” variety, best for eating fresh or for sauce, jam, or juice; and the Oriental, a “freestone” type with fruit best suited for eating fresh, drying, and canning. Either type can be halved, pitted, and frozen whole. You can slice them into garden salads and make plum liqueurs. Prunes are great snacks by themselves, but they’re also good baked in breads, muffins, and cookies.
Prunes, of course, are simply dried plums, they’re essentially one in the same, however, their nutritional profiles are quite different.
One cup of sliced, raw plums, for instance, contains only 78 calories, while the same amount of the dried version contains… wait for it… 418. Fresh plums are high in sugar with 16 grams per serving, while the dried variety is clearly over the top with 66 grams. Comparing these numbers with fine dark chocolate, which has around 230 calories in 40 grams (four small squares), plums with their natural sweetness are a healthy alternative. And while too much fructose is certainly something you want to avoid, including certain whole fruits into your diet, such as grapes, blueberries, prunes, and apples, may actually reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
That’s just the beginning of the dissimilarities. Two things are the same, however: They both have a single, large pit inside, making it a drupe, and they’re both delicious.
Luther Burbank, who was responsible for most of the hybridization, tirelessly conducted cross-breeding experiments on plums to produce a tree with all the right attributes, such as "stability, novelty, variety, hardiness, beauty, shipping quality, and adaptability.”1 It was his belief that a prune won’t dry into a marketable fruit unless the plum contains a minimum sugar concentration of 15 percent.
Whether picking fresh or purchasing, plums should be just soft enough to make a slight indentation with your thumb. You should also make sure they’re not genetically modified. If they’re too firm, they can be kept at room temperature to ripen for optimal flavor and juiciness.
Plum and apricot pits, apple and quince seeds, and almonds contain a chemical compound called amygdalin, made up of glucose, benzaldehyde, and cyanide. It’s a controversial substance, used to make the patented drug Laetrile (Amigdalina B-17 or vitamin B17).
In 1924, Laetrile was isolated from amygdalin and promoted as a cancer treatment. By 1978, more than 70,000 Americans had tried it—despite the fact that it’s been outlawed in the U.S. since 1963. People still seek Laetrile treatments in Mexican clinics, where it’s still legal. Recent studies indicate that Laetrile shows serious potential in reducing the spread of cancer, although not a cure.
Health Benefits of Plums and Prunes
Significant amounts of flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants in plums, such as lutein and cryptoxanthin, scavenge free radicals that enter our systems through poor eating habits and environmental toxins such as air and water pollution, BPA in plastics, synthetic preservatives, etc. All these contribute to everything from premature aging to cancer.
Red blood cell-formulating iron, heart and blood pressure regulating potassium, and fat and carbohydrate metabolizing B vitamins such as niacin, B-6, and pantothenic acid are important health benefits contained in plums and prunes, and the vitamin K and amino acid contents are very high. Vitamin A and zeaxanthin in plums is eye protective, because as a carotenoid, it absorbs into the retina and filters ultraviolet light.
Vitamin C is one of the most prominent nutrients in plums and prunes, protecting cholesterol from free radical damage, which is especially beneficial for people with antherosclerosis (aka hardening of the arteries) and diabetes. Other diseases positively affected include stroke, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and heart disease – something that could be said of all fruits and vegetables with high vitamin C content.
Classified as phenols, neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid are two unique phytonutrients in plums and prunes, and in recent years the subject of numerous clinical trials. That’s because of their antioxidant effectiveness, especially against one of the most damaging free radicals – superoxide anion radical – and neutralizing those that are particularly damaging to the fats in our cell membranes, brain cells, and cholesterol molecules.
Both fresh and dry plums are known as a natural laxative, mainly due to the natural chemicals sorbitol and isatin, both helpful for relieving constipation. This is one benefit prunes in particular are known for. Their role in providing bulk promotes the free movement of fecal matter through the colon, helping to prevent colon cancer. The soluble fiber also lowers cholesterol, both by flushing out cholesterol excess build-up and preventing its proliferation.
But the fiber in plums and prunes also plays an important role in feeding the good bacteria in your gut. Plums contain 2 grams of fiber in a one-cup serving, constituting 9 percent of the RDV, as compared to 12 grams of fiber in prunes, which provide nearly half of what you need in an entire day!
However, consume plums and prunes in moderation because they contain fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts
Plums Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies on Plums and Prunes
Even the most aggressive breast cancer cells died after being treated with "Rich Lady" peach and "Black Splendor" plum extracts in recent lab tests,2 according to reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. Scientists reported that not only did the extracts kill the cancerous cells, they didn’t adversely alter the normal cells, due to the phenolic compounds chlorogenic and neochlorogenic.
Folk remedies using plums and prunes prove highly useful in treating constipation, as well as hypertension, diabetes, jaundice, and fever. Modern scientists have found plums to be therapeutic in many other areas, as well, concluding:
“Prunes have been found pharmacologically active as antioxidant, anticancer, anxiolytic, mild laxative and antihyperlipedimic. Their efficacy in treatment and prevention of hypercholesterolemia and osteoporosis has been documented in clinical studies. It exerts positive effects on cardiovascular parameters possibly through anti-oxidant activities, high fiber and potassium contents. In conclusion, prunes have wide range of nutritional and medicinal uses and daily consumption can be beneficial in the treatment or prevention of different ailments.”3
Because constipation is a common malady, researchers decided to compare the effects of prunes versus psyllium, a natural fiber from the Plantago ovata plant commonly used as a laxative. Forty constipated participants helped researchers determine that dried plums offer superior relief from this malady, and should be the first remedy.4
Healthy Plum Recipe:
Ginger Plum Tart
|2 ½ cups almond meal (purchase or
process your own)
|5 Tbsp. coconut oil or
unsalted butter, melted
|2 Tbsp. honey
||¼ tsp. sea salt
For the filling:
|4 cups plums, pitted and sliced
||5 Tbsp. arrowroot powder
||2/3 cups honey
||¼ tsp. sea salt
|3 Tbsp. grated ginger
||Juice from half a lemon
||1 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place crust ingredients into a medium mixing bowl, mix until moist, then transfer it to the tart pan. Using your hands, press it into an even layer over the bottom and sides.
- In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together the arrowroot powder, honey, sea salt, lemon, and ginger. Stir in the plums until just coated. Pour the fruit filling into the crust and arrange into a single layer. Dot the top of the fruit with the cold butter.
- Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes until the crust is deeply golden. Check during the last ten minutes to make sure the top edges don’t burn. Cool completely before slicing.
(Adapted from SarcasticCooking.com)
Plums and Prunes Fun Facts
Luther Burbank conducted some incredibly inventive experiments with fruits, including the plum. An example is the “plumcot” – half plum and half apricot. He also produced the pluot, which was 60 percent plum and 40 percent apricot, and the aprium, a 70 percent apricot and 30 percent plum mix.
Their natural sweetness and versatility make plums one of the best fruits to have on hand all year round. Raw plums can be eaten fresh, dried, or canned, or sliced into garden salads. Meanwhile, prunes -- simply the dried version of plums -- are a great snack by themselves or can be added to breads, cookies, and muffins.
Plums and prunes will not disappoint you, nutrition-wise. Loaded with free radical-scavenging antioxidants, vitamins A and C, zeaxanthin, potassium, fat, and fiber, these two treats offer numerous health benefits such as helping maintain vision health, protecting against diseases like stroke, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis, and even promoting regular bowel movements.
Whether it’s fresh plums or dried prunes you crave, make sure you consume these in moderation, as they both contain high amounts of sugar.