What Are Prunes?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

A woman holding a prune

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Prunes are dried plums. They come from specific plum varieties that are intended to be dried rather than consumed as fresh fruit. It was once customary in parts of Europe to call plums "fresh prunes" while Americans use "prune" for the dried version. California is responsible for the majority of the world's prunes. This very healthy dried fruit is most often eaten as a snack whole or mixed with nuts. Prunes can, however, be incorporated into sweet and savory foods.

Fast Facts

  • Nutrition: Rich in potassium and vitamin K; good source of protein and fiber
  • Storage: Airtight container in cool, dark place or refrigerator
  • Substitutes: Figs, raisins, dried dates

What Are Prunes?

Prunes are from varieties of European plum trees that are freestone, meaning the pit is easier to remove while fresh plums tend to be clingstone. Most prunes are made from the La Petite d'Agen plum, which was brought to California from France in 1856 by French horticulturist Louis Pellier. Almost 99 percent of the American crop of prunes comes from Pellier's French plum tree which was originally grafted to an American plum tree. It's well known today as the French Improved plum. It takes up to three pounds of fresh plums to make one pound of prunes.

For a few years, the prune industry made efforts to use the names "plum raisins" or "dried plums." It was in hopes of appealing to younger people because the fruit has long been linked to older populations for digestive reasons. That initiative didn't go over well and today the California prune industry proudly calls them prunes.

Prunes vs. Dates

While prunes are dried plums, dates can be either dried or fresh fruit. Dried dates are sweeter than fresh and are commonly added to baked goods. They look similar in texture to prunes, though dates are a golden amber color with an oblong shape while prunes are nearly black. The two could be used as substitutes for one another, but most people prefer the extra sweetness of dried dates when in food. Prunes are often preferred for snacking as dates can be too sweet on their own.

Prune Uses

It's very common for prunes to be eaten alone as a snack. They can also be mixed with a variety of nuts or dark chocolate chips. Chopped prunes can be added to cereal or breakfast oatmeal, blended in smoothies, or topped on a salad as you would raisins or dried cherries. They're used as a pastry filling or added to baked goods like cookies and bread. Prunes themselves can be stuffed with chocolate, almond paste, or nuts. Wrapping them with bacon is a popular appetizer.

Prunes do well when sparingly used in savory dishes, such as soups and stews, poultry stuffing. Pureed prunes make a good butter substitute, addition to vinaigrette dressings, and can be made into a jam.

How to Cook With Prunes

Prunes require almost no prep work when adding them to food. You will need to remove the pit if it has not been done, though most are pitted before packaging. You can also reduce the cooking time by soaking them in water or juice for about 15 minutes.

It's common that prunes are chopped into smaller pieces so they're easier to incorporate into the recipe. Some recipes use whole prunes while others will have you puree them. In French cuisine, you might find prunes simmered in wine, then placed on the plate with pork or another meat cooked in the sauce.

What Does It Taste Like?

Prunes taste like a plum with a delectable, concentrated sweetness brought about by the drying process. They are sticky and chewy and one of the plumpest dried fruits.

Prune Substitute

Figs are the best prune substitute in terms of size, chewiness, and sweetness. Raisins and dried dates are good as well, but not as sweet. You can also use dried persimmons, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, or apricots. With any of these, the same amount the recipe recommends for prunes should work out just fine.

Prune Recipes

Prune recipes are not plentiful but they are seeing more use. Traditionally, you will find prunes incorporated into more international dishes, particularly British, Eastern European, French, and Italian.

Where to Buy Prunes

Nearly any grocery store and supermarket will have prunes in stock. Look for them among other dried fruits like figs and dates; this may be in either the baking or snack aisle, depending on the store. They're sold in plastic packaging or canisters, commonly ranging from 9 to 18 ounces and are inexpensive. Prunes are available in bulk and sold by the pound, mostly online, though they might also be in bulk food stores. Prune juice is common in stores as well.

If you can see the prunes before buying, look for plump, shiny fruits. They should be soft and show no signs of mold.

Storage

Prunes should be stored in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag to keep them plump and moist. If possible, you can also simply reseal the original packaging. Keep this in a cool dark place for up to two months or in the refrigerator for four months. They can also be frozen, but that will compromise their texture.

Nutrition and Benefits

Prunes are famously known as a natural laxative and good for treating constipation. Prunes have other health benefits, though. They are high in potassium which is responsible for building muscle, breaking down carbs, and regulating fluids in the body. Just 1/2 cup serving can account for 14 percent of the daily recommended value.

Prunes are also rich in vitamin K which has been shown to support bone health. They're a good source of fiber and protein and have no cholesterol, fat, or sodium. Five pitted prunes contain 115 calories, 30.5 grams of carbs, and 18 grams of sugar. Eating them in moderation is recommended.