The plum is a stone fruit that grows on trees in the Prunus genus. Depending on the variety, a plum may be green, red, purple, or yellow, and all have smooth, edible skin and sweet flesh surrounding a pit. The fruit is grown throughout the world, though China, Romania, Serbia, and the United States lead commercial cultivation. It's a global ingredient, found in cuisines from Eastern Europe to Asia, as well as North and South America. Plum can be eaten raw as a fresh, sweet-tasting snack. In the kitchen, the fruit is most often used in baked goods or boiled to create jams and sauces for both sweet and savory dishes. It can also be grilled, poached, roasted, or stewed.
What Is a Plum?
The plum is the fruit produced by trees in the Prunus genus, which is a member of the rose family. The plant is native to China, the Americas, and Europe. The fruit is classified as a drupe, meaning it has a pit (or stone) in the center, similar to a peach and apricot. Healthy plum trees are prolific and the fruits fill every branch and limb, often ripening all at once.
The plum ranges in size, shape, and color. It can be broken out into two big groups: fairly round Japanese plums and somewhat oblong European plums. European or Italian plums may be sold as sugar plum, Italian plum or prune, French prune, or simply "fresh prune" since it's the fruit that is dried to make prunes. Japanese plums can then be broken into red plums, black plums (more of a dark purple color), and yellow plums. Both black and yellow plums have an amber-colored flesh under their skins.
The skin of the plum is smooth, covered with a white powder called a bloom, and edible. The flesh is juicy and, when preparing the fruit, the inedible pit is discarded. Plum may be baked, boiled, grilled, poached, or stewed and it's a relatively inexpensive fruit.
How to Cook With Plums
Besides eating raw out of hand, plums can be used in a variety of ways. They're commonly found in baked goods such as cakes, pies, and tarts. Plum jam and chutney are very popular, as are sauces for desserts and savory meat dishes. The fruit is also used in beverages such as smoothies and can be juiced to drink as is or fermented to make plum wine. When you cook with black plum, the dark skin will give the entire dish a beautiful purple color.
To prepare plum for recipes, you'll want to wash the outside well. Recipes will generally require you to cut the fruit into halves or quarters, then discard the pit. For recipes like dumplings, when you need to preserve the general shape of the plum, slit it in half, cutting along the pit, then remove the pit. Other recipes, like jams that require boiling, will call for chopped plums. Plum halves may also be grilled or roasted and quartered plums can be poached for a sweet fruit soup or compote.
What Does It Taste Like?
In general, a plum is sweet and juicy with a pleasantly tart aftertaste, which is attributed to the skin. Some varieties may be sweeter or more tart than others. The texture is firm but easy to bite.
Recipes that use plum tend to be on the sweeter side, such as cakes and pies. The fruit also creates a sweetened glaze or sauce for meats like chicken and pork. Plum jams and chutneys are very popular and offer a way to preserve the fresh fruit flavor for a variety of uses.
Where to Buy Plums
Most supermarkets and grocery stores stock fresh plum when the fruit's in season. The fruit can also be found at some farmers markets. Plum comes into season from the middle of summer into early fall. This will vary slightly with the climate, that's year's weather and the specific variety. Sold individually by the pound, the plum is generally inexpensive.
This fruit is delicate and should be handled carefully to avoid bruising. When selecting a plum, give it a very gentle squeeze. It should give just a little bit, just like a peach. The skin should be a vibrant color and not have soft spots or bruising. Most plums have a bloom—a delicate dusty white matte powder on the skin that rubs or rinses off. This is a sign of ripe, freshly harvested fruit that has not been over-handled.
A plum that is ripe and ready to eat can be kept at room temperature. Or, to keep it in good shape a bit longer, wrap the fruit loosely in plastic and keep it chilled. For a plum that's still hard, allow it to soften by leaving it out at room temperature. To speed up the process, place it in a paper bag. Unlike some fruit, a plum won't get sweeter; it stops developing sugars once plucked from the tree.
If you have too many to use right away, plums freeze beautifully. Wash, peel, and pit the plum if you prefer. Cut it into smaller pieces, then flash freeze the fruit in a single layer on a baking sheet before transferring to an airtight container. Plum will keep in the freezer for six months to one year. Once frozen the fruit is best for smoothies, baked goods, or jams.
Plum vs. Pluot
The pluot is a hybrid of plum and apricot. It typically comes into season about the same time as the plum. Pluot is more like a plum than an apricot in shape and color, though it tends to have a crisper texture than plum. This primarily makes a difference when eating the fruit raw, and pluot can be used in many plum recipes.
Sometimes marketed as a pluot or "Sweet Treat," a pluot is a similar plum-apricot hybrid that shows both fruits equally. This fruit tends to be oblong with some green on the skin, patches of a red blush from the sun (an apricot trait), and vibrant pink to red flesh inside. It's a later season varietal with fairly firm flesh, so it's less susceptible to damage and a good choice for chopped recipes, such as a substitute in plum salsa.
There are many varieties of plums, each with varying color, taste, and texture. Some of the more common varieties are preferred for particular uses.
El Dorado is a popular Japanese black plum with yellow flesh. It has a sweet, mild plum flavor and tends to keep its shape when cooked, making it perfect for things like plum tarts.
The Moyer plum is a common large, oblong European variety. It's prized for its sweet flavor and can be eaten fresh or dried. Damson plums are another well-known European plum.
Greengage plum is a green plum common in France. It has green skin and a greenish-yellow flesh with a honey-like flavor. Mirabelle plums are the sweetest of all plum varieties. The small fruit with a slight reddish blush is popular for making eau-de-vie in France.
Red plum varieties have bright red skin. Some, like the Santa Rosa, have amber flesh, while others, like Simcas, have bright red flesh that matches the skins. The skin is tart and balances out the sweet fruit. When ripe, these plums are pretty soft, so they're among the most delicate. Elephant Heart is another common red plum.
Yellow plums are yellow inside and out, and are juicy with a nice crisp texture.