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Are prunes made from plums?

Prunes are a popular dried fruit that have been enjoyed around the world for centuries. They have a sweet, sticky texture and a rich flavor. But where exactly do prunes come from? Are they simply dried plums, or is there more to it than that? In this article, we’ll take a close look at how prunes are made and the relationship between prunes and plums.

What are prunes?

Prunes are dried plums. They are made by dehydrating fresh plums to remove moisture. The drying process allows prunes to be preserved and shipped long distances. Prunes can be shelf-stable for several months due to their low moisture content.

Most prunes are made from a variety of plum known as the European plum (Prunus domestica). The cultivar varieties suitable for prune production are: French (Petite d’Agen), Italian (Fellenberg) and American hybrids such as Improved French (VF 14-6). These varieties produce plums with high sugar content and solid flesh which are ideal for drying.

Here are some key facts about prunes:

  • Prunes contain only about 18% water, compared to about 80% in fresh plums.
  • They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Prunes contain sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol with laxative effects.
  • The majority of prunes are produced in California which has a suitable hot, dry climate.

Overall, prunes can be considered a highly concentrated form of plums, with more intense flavor and nutrition in a dried, portable package.

How are prunes made?

Prunes are made through a multi-step drying process:

  1. Harvesting: Plums are harvested by hand or with machines when ripe but still firm. Harvest timing depends on variety, but typically occurs in late summer.
  2. Dehydration: Plums are placed on trays or racks and slowly dried for about 2 weeks. Drying removes moisture and concentrates sugars and flavors.
  3. Curing: Dried plums are allowed to further cure by sitting for 2-3 weeks. This allows any remaining moisture to distribute evenly.
  4. Processing: Prunes are pitted, sized, graded, treated for quality preservation, and packaged.

The key step is controlled dehydration. Plums are dried slowly at 85-95°F until they reach the target moisture content of 18%. If dried too quickly, the skins harden and prevent moisture loss. If dried too slowly or at low temperatures, prunes are susceptible to mold growth. Proper drying results in prunes that are soft and pliable with concentrated, rich flavor.

What is the difference between prunes and plums?

Prunes and plums come from the same species of fruit – Prunus domestica. However, prunes are dried plums that have had their moisture content removed. Here is a comparison:

Characteristic Plums Prunes
Moisture content 80-85% 18%
Texture Juicy, firm flesh Sticky, chewy
Shelf life 1-2 weeks 6-12 months
Flavor Sweet, mild Concentrated, intense
Sugar content 10-15% Over 60%

As you can see, the drying process transforms the plum into a product with longer shelf life, chewier texture, concentrated sugars and flavors and higher nutrition. However, prunes and plums are still closely linked in origins and genetics.

Nutritional differences

Since prunes are dehydrated plums, many of the nutrients are concentrated into a smaller, dried fruit. Prunes are high in important vitamins, minerals and fiber:

Nutrient Plums Prunes (dried plums)
Calories 46 per plum 66 per 1/4 cup
Fiber 1 g 3 g
Potassium 157 mg 252 mg
Vitamin K 5% DV 21% DV
Vitamin A 5% DV 4% DV
Iron 1% DV 3% DV

Prunes are particularly high in vitamin K, which supports bone health. They also contain the antioxidants neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid.

Health benefits

Both plums and prunes offer health benefits, but prunes provide concentrated amounts of certain nutrients and plant compounds. Some of the top health benefits of prunes include:

  • Improved digestion: Prunes contain sorbitol, which has natural laxative effects to support regularity.
  • Lowered cholesterol: The fiber and antioxidants in prunes may help reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
  • Blood pressure support: Prunes contain potassium which helps control blood pressure.
  • Bone health: The vitamin K in prunes improves calcium absorption to support bone density.
  • Antioxidant protection: Chlorogenic acid and neochlorogenic acid act as antioxidants in prunes to reduce cellular damage.

While fresh plums offer great nutrition, the dehydration process of prunes creates a product with unique health and functional benefits.

Common uses

Here are some of the most popular ways prunes are eaten:

  • As a standalone snack
  • In fruit and nut trail mixes
  • Stewed in juices and syrups into a compote
  • In smoothies and juices
  • In oatmeal and other cooked breakfast cereals
  • In salads paired with cheeses
  • In sauces for roasted meats like duck
  • In baked goods like cookies, breads and cakes

Their sticky, chewy texture makes them an excellent addition to many dishes. The sweetness of prunes offsets savory flavors in foods like stews and salads.

Global production

Prunes are produced commercially in many regions with suitable dry climates. Here is a table showing the top prune producing countries and their annual production:

Country Annual Prune Production (tonnes)
United States 288,000
France 135,000
Chile 120,000
Iran 95,000
Argentina 92,000
China 85,000

As you can see, the United States is the dominant producer of prunes worldwide, followed by France, Chile, Iran, Argentina and China. California dominates prune production within the U.S. The hot, dry climate in these regions drives successful prune production.

Common plum varieties used

Only certain plum varieties are well-suited for commercial dried prune production. Some of the most common include:

  • Improved French: Very high sugar content and excellent drying traits. Most common prune plum grown in California.
  • French (Petite d’Agen): Traditional French prune variety, medium-sized fruit. High quality dried prune.
  • Sutter: Newer California variety that dries well. Large-sized fruit.
  • Moyer: Extremely sweet, reddish-purple skin. Smaller stone and high flesh to pit ratio.
  • Stanley: Sweet, thick flesh. Widely grown for fresh plums but also good prunes.

Breeding programs continue to select for plum varieties that produce high quality prunes. Important traits include sweetness, thick flesh, good skin integrity for drying, and small pits.


Prunes are produced from particular plum varieties that have been dried to remove moisture. This process concentrates the flavors and nutrition of plums into a chewy, sweet dried fruit that is highly portable and shelf-stable. While prunes and plums come from the same basic fruit, prunes provide unique health benefits and culinary qualities that set them apart from their fresh plum counterparts. With their diversity of uses in recipes across the world, prunes are a valued form of preserved plums.