A stone fruit from the genus Prunus in the rose family, plums grow on trees worldwide in colors from yellow to green, orange to red, blue to dark purple and nearly black. But those available commercially in the United States can be categorized into two main groups: the heart-shaped or rounded Japanese plums and the smaller, more oblong European plums, which may be labeled Italian or French prune plums. In season from the middle of summer into early fall, many varieties of plums taste delicious eaten out of hand. You can also bake prolifically with them, turn them into chutney or jam, or incorporate them into a sauce for roasted meats. They pair particularly well with savory Asian flavors.
What Are Plums?
Related to peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, and almonds, plums are a lightly tangy sweet fruit with a smooth edible skin and firm juicy flesh. When fully ripe, many types separate easily from a freestone pit at their center, making it quite simple to halve, slice, or chop them. Plums generally cost more than peaches and nectarines but less than apricots and cherries.
How to Cook With Plums
You can bake, roast, stew, poach, and grill plums. They can also be dried, salted, and pickled. Some varieties hold their shape better than others when you cook them; small, firm prune plums make an especially good choice for baking thanks to this characteristic. When cooking with black plums, expect the dark skin to tinge the entire dish a vibrant shade of purple. Blanch the plums first and remove the skins if you prefer.
To easily remove the pit, run a paring knife along the natural seam completely around the plum, cutting through the skin and flesh all the way to the stone. Then gently twist the two halves in opposite directions until they release. A freestone pit will pop right out, but the pit of a clingstone variety may need a firm pry to dislodge and remove.
What Do They Taste Like?
Plums range from sweet to sour in flavor, with hints of honey or floral notes in some varieties. The flavorful skin remains tart even as the flesh ripens.
Tarts, strudels, cobblers, crumbles, puddings, pies, cakes, cookies, ice cream, chutney, jam, sauce, slaw, brandy — there's a plum recipe for anything you're craving.
Where to Buy Plums
Look for plums from late spring into early fall at grocery stores and farmers markets nationwide. You can also order them for delivery from "fruit of the month" clubs and other mail-order growers.
Ripe plums give just a little when gently squeezed, much like peaches. Most plum varieties display a distinctive bloom of ripeness — a dusty white powder that rubs or rinses right off. Savvy shoppers look for that bloom as an indication of ripeness and minimal handling.
Store ripe and ready plums at room temperature for immediate consumption or in the refrigerator to prolong quality for up to three days. Plums that are still hard will soften in a bowl kept at room temperature or in a loosely folded paper bag kept on the counter. Speed the softening by putting a ripe banana in with the plums. But unlike some fruit, plums won't get sweeter, as their sugars stop developing immediately upon harvest.
For long-term storage, freeze plums. Rinse thoroughly, let dry, then halve them to remove the pit. Freeze them like this, or cut them into wedges, slices, or chunks, depending on the intended use. It's easy to pop them straight from the freezer into smoothies or into a pot for jam or chutney; you'll want to defrost them before you use them in most pastries, owing to their high water content.
Nutrition and Benefits
One average-sized plum, approximately 2 1/8" in diameter, contains 30 calories, 1 gram of dietary fiber, and 10 percent daily value for vitamin C. They are also a source of many other vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and K, as well as potassium.
Pluots vs. Plucots vs. Plums
Pluots — a hybrid of plums and apricots — veer a bit more towards plum characteristics. They tend to be darker and rounder, like plums, and have a fairly crisp texture. Plucots are simply earlier plum-apricot hybrids that showcase both fruits equally. They tend to have some green on their skins, with vibrant pink to red flesh inside. They have a distinctive oblong or oval shape with greenish yellow skins that may show patches of reddish blush where the sun hit them (just like apricots). They are a later season varietal with fairly firm flesh, so they ship more easily than other fruits. Their crispness also makes them a good candidate for use in recipes calling for diced or chopped pieces of fruit. You can substitute pluots or plucots for plums in most uses.
With upwards of 200 varieties of plums, which mature at different times during the season, it may be hard to determine which type of plum you're buying, beyond the main categories. But varieties within each category share at least some characteristics, so substitute with confidence.
Generally smaller and sweeter than their Japanese counterparts, European plums are also more delicate. Moyer plums have the longer shape distinctive of European varieties. Damson plums are a wild variety often categorized with the European plums. With a slightly more astringent flavor, they make a good choice for fruit preserves. Greengage plums are common in France, with green skin and a greenish-yellow fruit with notes of flowers and honey. Mirabelles are small, sweet plums with a slight reddish blush used for making eau-de-vie in France. They are the sweetest of all plums, and a good choice for baking.
Japanese plums can be red, black (or very dark purple), or yellow. Both black and yellow plums have amber-colored flesh with a pronounced sweet-tart flavor. The El Dorado, a variety of Japanese black plum, is bright red to deep purple on the outside with yellow flesh. These have a sweet, mild plum flavor and hold their shape when cooked. Red plums are so named because they have a bright red skin. Some, such as the Santa Rosa, have amber fruit, but other red plums, such as Simcas, have bright red flesh that matches their skins. The skin brings a tartness that balances out the sweet fruit. When ripe, these plums are pretty soft, so they don't travel particularly well. Elephant Heart is another common red plum. Like all plums, they work well in jams or plum chutney.