We have to pity the poor prune. Unlike most dried fruits, prunes have been directly associated with constipation and the unappealing reputation of stimulating undesired bowel movement. However, if we can get past the unpopular fame surrounding the fruit, people will come to realize that prunes provide exceptional benefits for the body, especially those related to bone health.
The Romans planted the first known variety of plums in Gaul, a region of Western Europe that encompasses present-day France. A popular European variety is thought to have originated in the 12th century at the time of the crusades when the Benedictine monks of the Abbaye de Clairac in the Agen area of France grafted the local variety with that of the Damas plum from Syria. Due to the local port access, this new Agen plum became the main variety exported throughout Europe. The Japanese plum was first domesticated in China but was extensively cultivated in Japan where it became an essential fruit staple. It was first introduced to the world along the Silk Road from China.
A few centuries later, the prune became quite a critical food on navy and merchant ships because they were easily stored and highly nutritious. Eventually the prune made its way to the US by two brothers, who brought a plum tree back from France to start their own cultivation in America. California became the primary prune manufacturer, producing 99% of the country’s prunes and 70% of the world’s prunes.
Currently, there are about 1,000 plum cultivars known for drying plums. The main type of plums grown for the production of prunes include, the Improved French, Sutter, Tulare Giant, Moyer, Imperial, Italian and Greengages. These varieties are smaller in size, and are dried and ready for the market before the fresh varieties. Due to their high water content, 3 pounds of fresh plums are needed to produce 1 pound of prunes.
Nutritionally, prunes contain high amounts of dietary fiber, which help regulate stool and normalize the bowel movement if consumed in quantities of at least 3.5 ounces. They contain 31% water, 64% CHO, 7% dietary fiber, 2% protein and less than 1% fat. They are also rich in vitamin K, providing 57% of the daily value and most of the B vitamins.
Prunes have been widely known for their laxative benefit, however, emerging studies now support its positive effect on bone growth and health. They are a great source of potassium and vitamin K, which have been associated with helping maintain bone mineral density levels and calcium balance in the body. Other benefits include reducing cholesterol, improving digestion and reducing appetite.
With bone health being critical to quality of life issues, especially for post-menopausal women, it is important for us to find foods that will help mitigate this concern. Prunes may be a challenging food to fit into an everyday diet, however, these recipes could be of help!
Cooking with prunes: