Jujubes are a very interesting fruit with an even more interesting history. From the Rhamnaceae or Buckthorn botanical family, they've been cultivated in China for more than 4,000 years.1 There are at least 400 jujube varieties, successfully developed for their distinctive characteristics — principally varieties best for eating fresh and others for drying to attain a chewy, date-like consistency.2
Sometimes called Chinese dates or tsao, jujubes come from deciduous and relatively small trees. Jujube trees grow at around 40 feet with shiny green leaves, modest-looking blossoms and grape-to-strawberry-sized fruits containing a single large seed in the center. This makes them drupes.3 The trees are quite tolerant to drought, allowing them to thrive even in barren soils. However, in arid weather conditions, such as in New Mexico, they still need enough irrigation for premium yield.4
Before ripening, jujubes have a yellow-green hue with a few mahogany spots. They eventually get the distinct red shade upon maturation. While you may be familiar with jujubes as wrinkly fruits, some people prefer eating jujubes before complete maturation, when the flesh is still crispy and sweet.5
Jujubes were first cultivated in the United States by Robert Chisholm in 1837, in Beaufort, North Carolina. However, only after Frank N. Meyer introduced cultivars directly from China in 1908 were jujubes introduced to the national market. Because of this contribution, jujubes were one of the chosen plants to be sculpted on the Frank N. Meyer Memorial Medal given by the American Genetic Association.6
Some of the jujube varieties to look for include Shanxi-Li, Li, Sherwood, Chico and Honey Jar (the latter reportedly the smallest and juiciest). Some of the drying varieties are Lang, Don-Polenski and Thornless.7
Health Benefits of Jujubes
While they may not have a large amount of any one nutrient, jujubes contain a wide array of different ones, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.8 They contain 20 times more vitamin C than any citrus fruit9, a nutrient known for strengthening the immune system and fighting infections, which may be why jujubes have been used medicinally for millennia in many cultures, as a tea for sore throat, for example.10
Medical studies have found that jujube fruits and extracts have the capacity help lower blood pressure, reverse liver disease, treat anemia and inhibit the growth of tumor cells that can lead to leukemia.11 Jujube extract may also be used to help relieve skin infections.12
How one fruit can have all these benefits has to do with not just the combination, but also the complexity of its phytonutrients. Scientists have identified eight flavonoids in the jujube fruit, including spinosin and swertish, which have sedative properties – undoubtedly the reason jujube seeds are used to treat anxiety and insomnia in traditional Chinese medicine.13
The free radical-scavenging phenol puerarin in jujubes helps keep your cholesterol levels in the normal range and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.14,15 The flavonoid apigenin, also found in chamomile, thyme and red wine, contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties, which may help reduce the risk of cancer and positively impact the liver, digestion and allergies.16,17
Dried jujube varieties can substitute dates or apples in recipes. Just peel the fruit and remove the single seed inside. Jujubes can also be made into juice, wine or vinegar,18 as well as pickled whole or used to make tea.19
However, consume jujubes in moderation because they contain fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts.20
Jujubes Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), dried
|Calcium 63 mg
Studies on Jujubes
Studies in 2012 on deproteinized polysaccharide extracted from jujube fruit determined its potential as an anti-skin cancer agent, which scientists suggested be used for further in vivo and clinical trial experimentation for this purpose.21 The essential oil of ziziphus jujuba also was found to possess hair growth-promoting activity,22 and the extract was found to be an effective, safe treatment for chronic constipation and related maladies.23
Jujubes Healthy Recipes:
Jujubes (Red Dates) and Egg Tea
30 pitted jujubes (red dates)
4 rice bowls of water
1 pastured egg
- Rinse jujubes thoroughly. Drain well. Set aside.
- Put water and jujubes in a saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, until about 1 rice bowl of water left.
- Carefully place an egg in a small saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently for three minutes for a runny yolk, or cook for a longer time according to your preference. Drain egg with a slotted spoon.
- Immediately transfer to a bowl of very cold water. Leave it to cool and peel off shell.
- Transfer egg into saucepan with the jujube tea. Warm egg up a bit. Serve immediately.
(Recipe adapted from Christine's Recipes24)
Jujube Fun Fact
Legends in some Asian countries say that jujube trees were closely watched because their sweet smell had the reputation of making people fall in love.25
Up until the past decade, the jujube fruit has been quite misunderstood — a case of mistaken identity in its first introduction, if you will. Slowly, the true nature of this exotic fruit, its benefits and uses are coming to light outside of the jujube fruit's Chinese origins.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, amino acids and flavonols, jujubes — a.k.a. Chinese dates — help maintain a steady flow of blood through the body and encourage the healthy development of bones, muscles, skin, hair, enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters. Ongoing studies continue to recommend jujubes as a fruit with the potential to help treat and even inhibit allergies and several types of cancers.
Jujubes have calming properties, are a good source of natural antioxidants and can help promote relaxation, maintain liver function, limit free radical damage, maintain cholesterol levels already within the normal range and even treat hair loss.
Luckily, the West now has a better opportunity to discover what much of the world already knew — the delicious versatility of this exotic fruit.