Fresh Prunes

Take a grape, dehydrate it, and you’ve got yourself a raisin. What we might call a golden raisin, folks in some other parts of the world might call a sultana. Dry a particular variety of grape and you get a currant. In every instance, you are referring to a dried grape when you talk about raisins, sultanas and currants. And if you dry some plums, then you’ve got prunes, right? Well… not necessarily.

If you’re like me, then you’ve likely been told at some point in your life that prunes are defined as dehydrated plums the same way that raisins are dehydrated grapes. And we would have been told incorrectly. A prune isn’t necessarily a dried plum. Instead, prunes consist of several particular varieties of plums.

Yes, you can find (and eat) fresh prunes, the same way you eat fresh apples and bananas. A big part of the common confusion arises because, for a lot of us, prunes are far more commonly sold in their dried form and your local supermarket may not carry fresh prunes. This is in stark contrast to the ready availability of both fresh and dried apricots, fresh and dried figs, fresh and dried dates, and so on.

All prunes are plums, but not all plums are prunes. For the most part, the prune varieties selected for drying are described as “freestone,” meaning that the pit is easy to remove. Contrast this to some clingstone plums (the pit is harder to remove) that may be grown for fresh consumption. If the plum is being grown for the purpose of being dried, then it’s likely a prune. In addition to being eaten fresh or dried, prunes can also be used in cooking, like in the preparation of a prune and Armagnac jus with duck confit.

The most common plum cultivars grown for drying in the United States include the Improved Fresh prune, the Sutter, the Tulare Giant, the Moyer and the Imperial Italian. If you find a package of “dried plums” in the store, then you are looking at some prunes that have been dried… but those same prunes were once fresh and, in their fresh state, could still be called prunes (or plums). I find the term “dried plums” used more on Asian packaging than the term “prunes” too, including some “dried damson” I found in Taiwan.

I had considered including today’s post as part of the Grammar 101 series on this blog, but the difference between plums and prunes isn’t really a grammatical issue. It’s more about knowing what the words really mean and using them accordingly. Are there other food terms that you find a lot of people using incorrectly?