Prunes and plums are closely related fruits that both belong to the genus Prunus. However, while prunes and plums originate from the same species, there are some key differences between the two.
What are Plums?
Plums are oval-shaped stone fruits that are juicy and sweet when ripe. There are over 2,000 varieties of plums that come in a range of colors including red, purple, green, blue, yellow, and white.
Some common types of plums include:
- European plums – typically blue or purple skin
- Japanese plums – typically red, black, or yellow skin
- American hybrids – mix of European and Japanese varieties
Plums are grown commercially worldwide, with China being the leading producer. Other top producers include Serbia, Romania, and the United States.
What are Prunes?
Prunes are dried plums. They are produced by dehydrating certain varieties of fresh plums through either sun drying or the use of specialized dehydrators. Any plum variety can be used to make prunes, but the most common types are European varieties including French prunes (Prunus domestica) and Italian prunes (Prunus domestica italica).
The process of dehydrating plums into prunes affects their nutritional profile and flavor:
- Moisture content is greatly reduced
- Natural sugars are concentrated
- Vitamin and mineral content becomes more concentrated
- Flavor becomes deeper and more pronounced
The top producers of prunes are China, the United States, Iran, France, and Italy.
Differences between Plums and Prunes
While plums and prunes share a close relationship, there are several key differences between the two fruits:
|High moisture content around 80-90%
|Low moisture content around 18-30%
|46 calories per 100g
|240 calories per 100g
|9-12g of sugar per 100g
|38g of sugar per 100g
|0.5-1.5g of fiber per 100g
|7g of fiber per 100g
|157mg per 100g
|732mg per 100g
|5% DV per 100g
|4% DV per 100g
|5% DV per 100g
|31% DV per 100g
|Juicy and fleshy
|Dry and chewy
|Sweet and tart
|Deep, sweet and tart
|Varies – red, purple, green, yellow
|Dark purple, brown or black
|Mostly eaten fresh
|Commonly used dried in cooking and baking
As shown in the comparison table, prunes have a much lower moisture content compared to plums. This concentration leads to increased levels of natural sugars, calories, fiber, potassium, and vitamin K. Prunes also have a darker color, more wrinkled texture, and chewier flesh.
Prunes are made by dehydrating certain fresh plum varieties. There are two main drying processes used:
- Sun drying – Plums are laid out and exposed to direct sunlight for 2-3 weeks. The warm temperatures and airflow dehydrate the plums into prunes.
- Mechanical dehydration – Plums are placed into specialized dehydrator machines that control temperature, airflow, and humidity to rapidly dry the plums into prunes within 24-48 hours.
Both methods work by removing moisture from the plums, causing them to shrivel and take on a chewy, concentrated texture.
Only specific varieties of plums are suitable for drying into prunes. The plums must have an ideal sugar-acid balance. They also need to have enough dry soluble content to prevent fermentation during the drying process.
Common plum varieties used for making prunes include:
- French – ‘Stanley’, ‘Seneca’, ‘French Damson’
- Italian – ‘Fellenberg’ ‘Italian Prune’
- Japanese – ‘Gulfruby’, ‘Shiro’
By drying certain plum varieties into prunes, the shelf-life can be extended up to 6-12 months when stored properly. This enabled prunes to be an important preserved food source historically before modern refrigeration.
Both plums and prunes are nutritious fruits that contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Here is how their nutrition profiles compare:
- Good source of vitamin C and vitamin K
- Provide small amounts of B vitamins
- Contain polyphenol antioxidants
- Low in calories and high in water content
- Low glycemic index fruit
- Excellent source of fiber – both soluble and insoluble
- High in sorbitol which acts as a natural laxative
- Rich in antioxidants and phenolic compounds
- High in vitamin K, potassium, and boron
- Natural source of energy due to concentrated sugars
Overall, prunes contain higher levels of many vitamins and minerals compared to plums due to their low moisture content. Prunes are especially high in fiber, vitamin K, sorbitol, antioxidants, and potassium.
Both plums and prunes offer health benefits, but prunes have been more extensively studied for their medicinal effects:
Potential Plum Health Benefits
- May improve heart health
- Could help control diabetes
- May promote digestive regularity
- Contains antioxidants that could help fight inflammation and oxidative stress
Proven Prune Health Benefits
- Improves digestion and relieves constipation
- May help maintain healthy bones
- Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Helps control appetite and aids in weight loss
- Slows progression of osteoporosis
The high fiber content, sorbitol, and phenolic compounds in prunes contribute to many of their evidence-based health benefits, especially for digestive health.
Uses in Cooking and Baking
Plums and prunes are used in cooking and baking in the following ways:
- Eaten fresh and raw
- Made into jams, jellies, compotes
- Used in savory dishes – chutneys, salsa, chicken dishes
- Roasted plum tomatoes
- Pureed into coulis sauce
- Made into plum wine
- Stews, braised dishes and tagines
- Baked into breads, muffins, cakes
- Added to stuffing and meat dishes
- Pureed into baby food
- Soaked and used in smoothies
- Chopped and used in granola or trail mixes
Due to their sweetness and moist texture, plums work well raw in both sweet and savory dishes. Prunes work better in cooked applications where their sticky, concentrated texture can be softened.
Plums are generally cheaper to purchase than prunes. Some average costs are:
- Plums – $2 to $4 per pound
- Prunes – $4 to $8 per pound
However, prunes are more calorie and nutrient dense since the moisture has been removed. One pound of prunes provides about 13 servings, while one pound of plums provides around 5 servings.
You can also dehydrate plums at home which is cheaper but time consuming. Overall, prunes cost more than plums, but you may get more nutritional bang for your buck with prunes.
Plums offer a sweet-tart flavor and juicy flesh when ripe. Their taste varies slightly depending on the variety. Prunes have a very sweet, deep, almost caramelized flavor and a chewy texture.
Prunes tend to taste much sweeter due to their high sugar content. They also have a stronger flavor intensity. The drying process caramelizes the sugars and concentrates the taste into a sticky, sweet fruit.
Fresh plums are available during the summer months in most grocery stores. Some varieties like Santa Rosa are available from May through October.
Prunes are available year-round in the dried fruit section of most grocery stores. You may find a wider selection at health food stores or international markets.
So while plums are only in season part of the year, prunes are available year-round due to their prolonged shelf life.
In summary, plums and prunes share an origin but diverge in appearance, taste, texture, and nutrition profile as a result of the drying process that turns plums into prunes. While both are healthy fruits, prunes are higher in certain nutrients and offer proven health benefits, especially for digestive health.
Understanding the differences between these two related dried and fresh fruits can help you decide when to choose each one in cooking, baking, or for snacking.