Prunes are a dried fruit that come from plums. They are made by dehydrating plums, which removes most of the water content and concentrates the nutrients and flavors. Prunes have long been prized for their unique taste and health benefits.
What is a prune?
A prune is simply a dried plum. Fresh plums are dried naturally through sun drying or by mechanical dehydration. This process turns the plum into a wrinkled, sweet, chewy dried fruit that is commonly referred to as a prune. The term “prune” technically refers only to dried plums of European varieties, such as prune d’Agen. Dried plums of American varieties are referred to as dried plums.
Prunes are made from a variety of plum cultivars, including:
- Prune d’Agen – The most common prune variety, originally from southwest France
- Prune d’Ente – A small, thick-skinned prune variety
- Stanley prune – An oval, blue-skinned variety popular in the U.S.
- Sutter prune – A large, sweet prune variety from California
The process of turning fresh plums into prunes involves:
- Washing and grading the plums
- Dehydrating them with sun drying or machines
- Treating them with steam, lye, or other solutions to improve taste and appearance
- Rehydrating to a desired moisture level
This process takes anywhere from 18-36 hours to turn fresh plums into prunes. It removes around 75% of the plum’s water content.
Prunes are highly nutritious given their small size. Since the drying process removes water and concentrates nutrients, prunes contain a higher density of some nutrients compared to fresh plums.
Here is the nutrition profile of prunes (3.5 oz or 100 grams):
As you can see, prunes are high in fiber, vitamin K, copper, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese. They also contain antioxidants such as neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid.
Eating prunes in moderation may provide the following health benefits:
Improve Digestive Health
Prunes are one of the richest natural food sources of fiber. A 100 gram serving provides 7.1 grams of fiber, which is 17-28% of the daily recommended fiber intake.
This fiber content makes prunes act as a mild laxative. They help soften stool, improve frequency, and alleviate constipation. The sorbitol and fiber in prunes help add bulk to stool and stimulate bowel movements.
In one study of 40 people with constipation, eating 10 prunes per day for 3 weeks significantly improved stool frequency and consistency compared to the control group.
Support Bone Health
Prunes contain several vitamins and minerals that contribute to bone health. These include:
- Vitamin K – Essential for osteoblasts, the cells responsible for bone formation
- Potassium – May reduce calcium loss from the body
- Boron – Helps the body retain calcium
- Copper & Manganese – Trace minerals important for bone matrix formation
Eating prunes may help support bone mineral density. In one study, postmenopausal women who ate 5-6 prunes daily for a year had significantly improved bone mineral density measurements compared to the control group.
Lower Oxidative Stress
Prunes contain antioxidants such as chlorogenic acids, neochlorogenic acids, anthocyanins, and other polyphenols. These compounds help neutralize oxidative damage from free radicals and inflammation.
Animal studies have found prune juice to significantly increase antioxidant capacity and reduce markers of oxidative stress.
By protecting cells against oxidative damage, prunes may help lower the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.
May Support Heart Health
Heart disease continues to be one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Prunes may help protect heart health in several ways:
- Lowering LDL cholesterol
- Reducing high blood pressure
- Decreasing oxidation of LDL cholesterol
- Improving endothelial function
- Helping regulate blood sugar
In one study, subjects eating prunes daily for 8 weeks saw significant reductions in LDL cholesterol compared to the control group. The prune group also had lower levels of LDL oxidation.
More human studies are needed, but the potent blend of antioxidants, minerals, fiber and vitamins in prunes appears beneficial for heart health.
May Help Manage Weight
Despite their sweet taste, prunes don’t appear to contribute to weight gain.
In fact, their fiber content makes them helpful for weight control. Fiber promotes satiety and slows the emptying of the stomach to make you feel full with smaller portions.
Population studies have found that people who eat more fiber and dried fruits tend to have lower body weights and less belly fat.
While prunes are high in natural sugar, their low glycemic index (GI) of 29 means they don’t cause dangerous spikes in blood sugar. This steady release of glucose may also help control appetite and food intake.
Selecting and Storing Prunes
When buying prunes, look for those that are plump and smooth, free of mold, pits, or cracks. They should feel heavy for their size. Prunes can be stored at room temperature for several months. For extended storage, refrigeration or freezing is best.
Prunes can be enjoyed as a snack or used in various dishes. They pair well with both sweet and savory foods. Here are some serving ideas:
- Add to oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese
- Mix into stuffing, rice dishes, couscous
- Blend into smoothies
- Make prune juice or prune spread
- Bake into cakes, muffins, tarts
- Use as a topping for ice cream, pudding
When cooking with prunes, keep in mind they have a propensity to stick, so coating them lightly in oil or butter helps.
Prunes are safe to eat for most healthy individuals. However, moderation is still advised, as they are high in natural sugar. Here are some things to consider:
- FODMAPs – Prunes contain FODMAPs, so they may cause digestive issues in some people with IBS.
- Pesticide residues – Non-organic prunes may contain higher pesticide levels since they aren’t washed before drying.
- Acrylamide – Prunes form acrylamide during processing at high temperatures. Always follow cooking instructions.
- Allergies – Prunes contain histamines and may provoke reactions in those with allergies.
- Drug interactions – Theoretically, prune juice may interact with diuretics, laxatives, and certain heart medications.
- Babies – Not recommended for children under 1 year old due to choking risk.
As with any food, moderation and caution is encouraged for certain individuals. Speak with your doctor about any concerns.
The Bottom Line
Prunes are dried plums with a sweet flavor and chewy texture. They provide a nutritious, fiber-rich addition to the diet.
Regular, moderate prune consumption may improve digestion, support heart health, and reduce disease risk factors. Prunes make a convenient on-the-go snack and can be used to enhance both sweet and savory recipes.
While prunes offer important health benefits, they should still be eaten in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.