There are various types of plums and they have different heritages and places of origin. The European plum is thought to have been discovered around two thousand years ago, originating in the area near the Caspian Sea. Even in ancient Roman times, there were already over 300 varieties of European plums. European plums made their way across the Atlantic Ocean with the pilgrims, who introduced them into the United States in the 17th century.
Plums are juicy and delicious fruits that belong to the genus Prunus of the Rosaceae family which also includes peaches, apricots, and nectarines. They tend to have a sweet and tart taste, and you can eat them as is or use them in a variety of recipes.
Plums exist in diverse colors and shapes with over 2000 different varieties. Along with the hand-picked, fresh variety, plums can also be dried or canned. These fruits are then referred to as prunes.
Plums are small deciduous trees which grow to a height of about 10-15 m and bears fruit with different characteristics based on the country of origin. Plums are drupes or stone fruit with a smooth pit and a crease running down on one side. It contains juicy pulp varying from creamy yellow to crimson red. The color of the outer skin may vary considerably from yellow or dark red to purple or black.
Plums contain an assortment of healthy components, vitamins and minerals. Plums are an excellent source of vitamins such as vitamin A, C (ascorbic acid), folate and vitamin K (phylloquinone). They are also a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B-6 and vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol). The minerals present in plums include potassium, fluoride, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc. Plums also supply dietary fiber and offer very low calories without any harmful fats.
Plums are packed with an immense range of phenols and flavonoids, which offer an impressive range of health benefits. Here are some of them:
Antioxidants: Plums contains vitamin C and phytonutrients such as lutein, cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. These components possess effective antioxidant qualities which help in preventing the damage caused by oxygen radicals called superoxide anion radicals. The phenols present in plums also extend their protective effect on the essential fats in the neurons and cell membranes against any injuries caused by oxidative stress.
Anxiety: Regular consumption of plums help in reducing anxiety. Studies have provided supporting evidence regarding the anxiolytic effects and antioxidant properties of chlorogenic acids present in plums, which help in curing anxiety-related behaviors and damage caused by oxidative stress.
Blood Clotting: Plums and prunes contain vitamin K, which helps in normal clotting of the blood and promotes bone health. Deficiency of vitamin K in the body can result in excessive blood loss and other health concerns such as weak bones.
Cancer: Plum extracts have been proven beneficial in the treatment of cancer. Studies have shown that the component epicatechin, present in plums, helps in inhibiting the growth and proliferation of malignant cancer cells and induces apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma or liver cancer. Plums are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, including chlorogenic acid and neo-chlorogenic acid which have a curative effect against breast cancer cells, without harming the normal healthy cells of the body.
Cardiovascular Health: The consumption of plums helps to maintain cardiovascular health. Research has provided supporting evidence regarding the fact that the regular intake of dried plums helps in promoting fluidity of blood in the arteries. This protective effect aids in the prevention of various cardiac disorders, including the development of atherosclerosis and the reduction in chances for heart attacks and strokes.
Cellular Health: Plums contains essential iron and copper which assists in the formation of red blood cells and facilitates blood purification and healthy circulation. The copper in plums acts as an antioxidant and is essential for nerve health and aids in the formation of collagen. Consumption of copper-rich plums also helps in the absorption of iron and prevents various diseases such as anemia and osteoarthritis.
Cognitive Health: Studies have shown that the flavonoids present in plum juice are effective in providing protection against age-related cognitive impairment. The beneficial phytonutrients present in plums help in reducing the inflammation in the neurological areas to improve learning and memory functions. Regular consumption of plums also helps in preventing age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Diabetes: Plums exert anti-hyperglycemic effects and help in combating diabetes. Studies have shown that the consumption of plum extracts aids in the reduction of blood glucose and levels of triglyceride in the body. The flavonoids present in plums exert protective effects against insulin resistance and help to enhance insulin sensitivity in the body.
Digestion: Plums are a good source of dietary fiber, along with the components sorbitol and isatin, which help in regulating the digestive system. According to research studies, dried plums or prunes are more effective in treating digestive disorders such as constipation as compared to other remedies such as psyllium husk. Sorbitol and isatin have a laxative effect and encourage the secretion of fluids in the bowels and promote the efficient flushing of waste through the colon.
Electrolyte Balance: Plums contain abundant quantities of potassium, which is an electrolyte and is required for the efficient functioning of cells and tissues of the body. Consuming potassium-rich plums helps in regulating muscle contractions and regulating the acid-base balance of the body.
Healthy Cholesterol Levels: Dried plums or prunes help in preventing hypercholesterolemia and hyperlipidemia. A comparative study has proven the efficacy of prunes over grape-juice in maintaining healthy levels of plasma and liver cholesterol. The fiber content present in plums also adds to the protective effect of the heart by reducing LDL cholesterol and helping to elevate the levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).
Immune System: Plums are beneficial in strengthening the immune defense of the body due to the presence of high vitamin C content. It promotes the body’s resistance against various infections and inflammations. Research has shown that oriental plums have immuno-stimulatory constituents that encourage the production of nitric oxide in the body, impede the metastasis of tumor cells, and are valuable in preventing various diseases.
Macular Degeneration: Plums contains vitamin A and beta-carotene, which are beneficial in maintaining healthy eye sight and preventing age-related macular degeneration. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin present in plums reside in the macular tissues of the retina and provide protection against the damage caused by UV radiation.
Nervous System: Plums contains vitamin B-6, which helps in the transmission of nerve signals and aids in the smooth functioning of the nervous system. Tryptophan, an amino acid present in plums, helps in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays an important role in the sleep, appetite and concentration.
Obesity: Plum extracts are valuable for treating obesity and other complications associated with obesity. Studies have shown that consumption of plums helps in fighting metabolic syndrome, due to the presence of bioactive compounds. The flavonoids and phenolic components such as anthocyanins, chlorogenic acids, quercetin, and catechins present in plums exert anti-obesity and anti-inflammatory effects on the different bodily cells, including the fat cells, and they also help in preventing obesity-related problems such as cholesterol disorders, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Osteoporosis: Consumption of dried plums exerts anabolic and anti-resorptive actions, which aid in maintaining healthy bones. Flavonoids such as caffeic acid and rutin that are both present in plums help in inhibiting the deterioration of bone tissues and prevent diseases such as osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Polyphenols, along with the potassium content present in dried plums, encourage the formation of bones, enhances bone density and prevents bone loss caused by ovarian hormone deficiency. Research has demonstrated that regular consumption of dried plums helps in the restoration of bone density that has already been lost due to aging.
Pregnancy: Plums and plum products are beneficial during pregnancy, due to the abundance of numerous vitamins and minerals. These beneficial components are vital for eye-sight, development of bones and tissues, and cellular health for the mother and the growing baby. The fiber content aids in preventing constipation and improves digestion. The inclusion of plums as a part of balanced diet helps in fighting various infections and maintains overall health. However, one should be careful regarding the choice of commercially available plum juices as they might contain high amounts of sugar.
Skin Care: Plums are rich in vitamin C, along with other antioxidants, which help to maintain healthy, radiant and youthful skin. The consumption of plums helps in reducing dark spots and wrinkles due to the presence of anti-aging nutrients. Plum extracts are used in various skin care products.
Weight Loss: Research conducted suggests that intake of prunes as part of a weight control diet can improve weight loss.
SELECTION AND STORAGE
Plums are available year round, however, they are at their best between May till September. In the store, look for fresh fruits featuring rich color. Avoid those ones with excessively soft, or with cuts or bruises. Ripen fruits yield to gentle pressure and features sweet aroma. Slightly hard mature plums can be kept at room temperature till they ripen. Ripe ones can be placed in the refrigerator but should be brought to room temperature before being eaten to enjoy their rich flavor. Dry plums called prunes can be stored at room temperature for few days.
PREPARATION AND SERVING METHOD
Wash plums in cold running water just before using. Fresh ripe plums should be enjoyed as a whole along with skin.
To remove the pit incise lengthwise deeply till the hard seed is felt and then remove the seed. Skin may be peeled off using paring knife as in apples.
However, its peel not only provides good fiber content but also contains some health benefiting anti-oxidant pigments. Therefore, just wash the fruit and enjoy without discarding the skin. They can also be baked or stewed.
HOW TO ENJOY
Plums are widely used in food items due to their sweet and tart flavor, as well as their pleasant aroma.
They can be enjoyed fresh and can also be added to puddings, jams and jellies.
Plum juice is delicious and very beneficial to your health.
Prune jelly can be used as a filling for candies and confectionery products.
And it can also be used as a binding agent for cereal bars.
Plum chutney or dip is famous in Indian cuisine.
You can also make a delicious pie with almonds and plums
A WORD OF CAUTION
Oxalates: Plums contain oxalates that can accumulate and crystallize, resulting in health concerns such as kidney or gall bladder complications. People who are already suffering from such conditions should avoid the usage of plums.
Sulfites: Dried plums or prunes are treated with sulfites to prevent them from oxidation of phenols in the prunes which can darken the fruit and turn it brown. People who have sensitivity towards sulfites should be careful regarding their intake of prunes, as they might trigger allergic reactions.
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