Prune, is a type of plum of Asian origin. Prunes are mostly dark brown-colored, oval, sweet and sticky plums with a shriveled and chewy skin. This dried fruit, known as alu Bukhara( also spelt as aloo Bukhara) in Indian Cuisine is included in the diet for its health benefiting properties. Prunes or dried plums are used in a number of dessert dishes like cakes, sweet loaves, puddings, purees, cookies, fudge and frittata in the western cuisines. Savory prune dishes are also not uncommon. Recipes for prune cake with brown sugar, prune and orange loaf, oats and prune muffins, prunes cooked in red wine, pureed prunes and prune fudge are some of the most popular prune recipes.
History of Prunes
Reference to prunes and prune recipes dates back to 4150 BC and even before that when plums were first discovered in western Asia and used in the Egyptian cuisines, as evidenced by archeological findings. In the 12 th century AD prunes were introduced to the European cuisine from Syria.
Culinary Uses of Prunes
The prune is used as an ingredient in quite a number of sweet or savory food preparations in both the Asian and the European cuisines. Their usage in dishes is similar to dates or figs. Apart from being used as an ingredient for a number of dessert dishes as already mentioned, prunes are used for making stew or a compote.
Popular Prune Recipes
Prunes are used in the Western and Asian cuisines in a number of ways. Though not commonly used as the main ingredient, they are used for enriching the dishes they are used in both nutritionally as well as for taste appeal. Considering quality, the French prunes of Agen are considered to be the best of all. Some popular prune recipes are discussed further:
- Tagine Recipes– they refer to a class of traditional stews of the North African countries, namely, the Moroccan, Algerian, Libyan and Tunisian stews, made using meat and vegetables. Prunes are used in tagine recipes to enhance their flavors and also to add to the nutritional worth of the dish. This dish involves simmering of prunes with a number of other fruits (both fresh and dried), vegetables, meat, spices and herbs. The usage of a large number of ingredients makes this main course stew a rich food. The tagine dishes vary according to the specifications of the regional cuisines.
- Prune Compote – traditionally linked to the Jewish and Greek cuisines the prune compote is a simmered and spiced dessert of prunes and other ingredient in a sweet base which may be sugar or sweetener solution. The Greeks like their prune compote with yogurt and sour cream. Generally, ice cream is the most preferred partner for prune compotes.
- Tzimmes- Also known as tsimmes, this is a Ashkenazi Jewish celebratory dish made of cubed carrots and yams. Dry fruits like raisins and prunes are used along with cinnamon and honey seasoning for enhancing the flavors of this dish which is meant to be ritually consumed on the Jewish New Year day called Rosh Hashanah. The dish is of religious significance to the Jews, the bright colored carrots being regarded as symbols of prosperity for the coming year.
- Fruktsuppe – This is a traditional Norwegian Fruit soup made using prunes. This is a nutritional soup cooked with prunes in combination with other fruits like raisins on a crock pot or slow cooker. Grape juice is added to this spiced dish later on. The soup, which is consumed with Norwegian bread ( lefse) along with butter for a light meal, owing to its medicinal worth, was also consumed by the Norwegians when they had common colds in the cold winter months.
- Sviskekompott – This is a traditional Norwegian dessert made using prunes. Apart form these dishes, the prune is used in a large number of dishes covering every aspect of a meal. Delicious prune starter dishes include prune crostini with gorgonzola, and prune canapés with polenta. A number of main course dishes are made using prunes. Salads in combination with feta cheese, prune stews (as in the north African tagine dishes), and kebabs made in combination with meat and other ingredients are all main course prune dishes. Prune accompaniment sauces, salads pickles and stuffings are some of the most widely used prune dishes. Apart from these, prunes are also used in a number of dessert dishes. Cooking with Prunes As a prune is a dried fruit with a shriveled skin, it is always recommended to tenderize it before cooking, this is done by soaking the prunes in hot or cold water for some hours or overnight to make them soft and save up on the time spent in tenderizing them while cooking. A lot of prune recipes require the prunes to be simmered in water. The juice of prunes is extracted for various culinary and nutritional purposes and the fruit in the pureed form also finds widespread culinary usage. Prunes are also used in the dried condition in baked dishes.
Nutritional Worth of Prunes
A prune is known for its high nutritional worth. It is a compact storehouse of a number of substances with immense nutritional and medicinal worth. Prunes are found to be endowed with phyto nutrients which benefit the human body with their anti-oxidant properties. The presence of beta carotene in prunes protects the body from a number of medical conditions like cardiovascular conditions caused due to diabetes, arthrosclerosis, and colon cancer. The European plum is found to be medically beneficial for people suffering from asthma, osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions. Prunes are also found to be instrumental in helping obese people eat less and therefore lose weight by retarding the rate of flow of food outside the stomach and also the rate of absorption of glucose from it. The slow delayed release of food from the stomach results in a feeling of fullness and consequently prevents one from feeling hungry frequently preventing him or her from indulging in the habit of overeating. The various acids in prunes help in regulating the bowel movement of human beings by preventing constipation and they also protect the intestines and lower the level of cholesterol. Prunes are also found to be beneficial in preventing post menopausal breast cancer and also in facilitating increased absorption of iron.
Buying and Storing Prunes
A prune that is fresh is slightly soft, and fleshy with a glossy skin. These are the attributes that one should bear in mind while purchasing prunes. They may be sold in transparent or opaque containers and it is always preferable to choose those packed in transparent containers as the quality of the fruits inside can be easily assessed by their appearance. One should observe for the developments of molds on the canned prunes and avoid them. Also the canned varieties that use sulphite preservatives should be avoided. The prunes are best stored in cool, dark and dry places preferably in a refrigerator. If a new container of prunes is opened it is recommended to seal them back tightly so that the prunes do not lose their internal moisture. This applies to both refrigerated as well as those prunes kept in the open. Refrigerated prunes are expected to keep fresh for about half a year.