Pleasing Your Palate With Plums

Plums are fruits of the genus Prunus, which includes apricotspeachescherries, nectarines, and almonds. They all belong to the Rosaceae family, along with strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, quinces, apples, pears, and ornamental trees and shrubs (such as roses, meadowsweets, photinias, firethorns, rowans, and hawthorns).

There are between 19 to 40 species of plums, although only two species, the European plum (Prunus domestica) and the Japanese plum (Prunus salicina and hybrids), are commonly sold.

The European plum may have originated in the Caucasus Mountains near the Caspian Sea. The prune (dried plum) was a staple food of the Tartars, Mongols, Turks, and Huns.

Plums were prominent in the writings and songs of Confucius (550 BC–479 BC), which include a listing of popular foods of Chinese culture. These were likely the Japanese plums, which actually originated in China, but derived their name from the country where much of their cultivation and development occurred.

In 65 BC, Pompey the Great introduced plums to the orchards of Rome, and Alexander the Great eventually brought them to the rest of the Mediterranean regions. There were soon over 300 varieties of European plums in ancient Rome.

European plums made their way across the Atlantic Ocean with the pilgrims, who introduced them into the United States in the 17th century. Early American colonists found wild plums growing along the east coast, but today the common European plum has replaced the native wild plum in popularity and as a commercial crop.

The earliest reference to plum history in the American colonies came from Prince Nursery of Flushing, New York, which was established in 1737 and reported in 1771 in an advertisement “33 kinds of plums” for sale. These plum trees were most likely European plums, Prunus domestica.

After the year 1755, Henry Laurens, who lived in Charleston, South Carolina and served as a President of the Continental Congress, introduced olives, limes, ginger, everbearing strawberry, red raspberry, and blue grapes into the United States. From the south of France he introduced apples, pears, plums, and the white Chasselas grape. William Bartram, who was a friend of Henry Laurens, described two species of American plums in his book, Travels, during his 1792 trip to Georgia, where he identified the Chicasaw plum, Prunus chicasaw, and in Alabama, he found a wild plum, Prunus indica.

In 1885, Luther Burbank imported twelve plum seedlings from all over the world and interbred them. His famous line of plum trees became popular in the late 1890s and are still grown today, including Burbank, Santa Rosa, Wickson, Golden, Satsuma, Shiro, and Ozark Premier.

Today, the United States, Russia, China and Romania are among the main producers of commercially grown plums. Plums are now the second most cultivated fruit in the world, second only to apples.

The fresh version (plums) and the dried version (prunes) of the plant scientifically known as Prunus domestica have a high content of unique antioxidant phenol phytochemicals called neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. They also contain flavonoids, including the anthocyanidin pigments cyanidin and peonidin. are powerful antioxidants that fight aging and prevent disease. Plums contain flavonols (Flavan-3-ols) called catechins, that help support healthy circulation by helping your arteries stay flexible. They also contain the flavanone hesperidin, which strengthens your blood vessels and and helps prevent hemorrhoids, bruising, and varicose veins. Hesperidin may also have anti-inflammatory effects, may also treat cancer, and some autoimmune diseases, may also alleviate hay fever and other similar allergies, and works together with vitamin C to maintain the health of collagen and connective tissues, which prevents sagging and wrinkling of your skin.

Plums can:

  1. Fight free radicals. The antioxidants in plums are particularly effective in neutralizing a particularly destructive oxygen radical called superoxide anion radical, and they also help prevent oxygen-based damage to fats, such as the fats that make up a large portion of your brain cells or neurons, the cholesterol and triglycerides circulating in your bloodstream, and the fats that make up your cell membranes. Peonidin in plums is a powerful antioxidant that fights damaging free radicals, and may fight inflammation and cancer. Catechins in plums are potent antioxidants that can prevent tumor blood vessel growth, protect against the development of atherosclerotic plaque buildups in arteries, help promote anti-diabetic effects in insulin resistance, and provide significant protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Vitamin C also helps to protect cholesterol from becoming oxidized by free radicals. Because oxidized cholesterol is the kind that builds up in your arteries and causes damage to blood vessels, vitamin C can help prevent atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. In addition, vitamin C can help neutralize free radicals that can cause asthma, colon cancer, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, so vitamin C may be able to prevent or alleviate those conditions. In fact, vitamin C consumption is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Plums are also a good source of flavonoid poly phenolic antioxidants such as lutein, cryptoxanthin and zea-xanthin in significant amounts. These compounds help act as scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
  2. Fight anemia and infections. Plums and prunes increase absorption of iron into your body, likely due to their vitamin C content. In addition, your body needs vitamin C to make healthy tissue and have 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.
  3. Improve digestive health. Certain nutrients in plums, including fiber, sorbitol, and isatin can help regulate the functioning of your digestive system and relieve constipation.
  4. Improve eye health. Plums are a good source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). Vitamin A is essential for good eyesight. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in vitamin A can prevent lung and oral cavity cancers. Zea-xanthin, an important dietary carotenoid in plums, is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective UV light-filtering functions. Eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the primary cause of vision loss in older adults.

Plums are a good source of vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting and bone metabolism and help reduce Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. Plums are also a good source of potassium, which is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Fresh, Raw Plums (Prunus domestica)

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin C

9.5 mg

16%

vitamin K

6.4 µg

8%

vitamin A

345 IU

7%

fiber

1.4 g

6%

potassium

157 mg

4%

carbohydrates

11.42 g

4%

copper

0.057 mg

3%

manganese

0.052 mg

3%

phosphorus

16 mg

2%

magnesium

7 mg

2%

niacin

0.417 mg

2%

thiamine

0.028 mg

2%

riboflavin

0.026 mg

2%

Calories

46

2%

calcium

6 mg

1%

folate

5 µg

1%

protein

0.7 g

1%

vitamin E

0.26 mg

1%

iron

0.17 mg

1%

pantothenic acid

0.135 mg

1%

zinc

0.1 mg

1%

vitamin B6

0.029 mg

1%

fat

0.28 g

0.43%

sodium

1 mg

0.04%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

carotene-ß

190 µg

lutein-zeaxanthin

73 µg

crypto-xanthin-ß

35 µg

Plums are available year-round, but they are at their best between May and September. If you want to purchase plums that are ripe and ready to eat, look for ones with a rich color and sweet aroma that yield to gentle pressure and that are slightly soft at their tip. They may still have a slight white “bloom,” indicating that they have not been over handled. Avoid plums that are excessively soft, or with cuts or bruises.

While you can also purchase plums that are firm and ripen them at home, avoid those that are excessively hard as they will be immature and will probably not develop a good taste and texture. Keep slightly hard mature plums at room temperature until they ripen. Check on them frequently over the next day or two to ensure that they do not become overripe. Place ripe plums in the refrigerator, but bring them to room temperature before eating them in order to enjoy their rich flavor. While plums can be frozen, to ensure maximum taste, remove their pits before placing them in the freezer. Dry plums (prunes) can be stored at room temperature.

Wash plums in cold running water just before using. Enjoy fresh ripe plums as a whole along with their skins.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Plum sections are a great addition to salads.
  • Use plums in pies, desserts, jams, and jellies.
  • Add dried plums (prunes) to muffins and cakes.
  • Add plum slices to cold cereal.

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