Prunes are a dried type of plum, usually the oblong, sweet, European plum called d’Agen. The d’Agen has since been cultivated in the United States, and was frequently just referred to as a prune. The term prune itself derives from the old French pronne, which simply meant plum.
Dried prunes are usually made from the d’Agen plum, or its modern descendants like the Stanley, the President, or the Italian plum. However the old French word for plum was still attached. Hence one often sees these deep blue plums referred to as prune plums, or simply prunes. Drying the prune plum was an excellent way to preserve the fruit. Modern English also refers to the dried appearance, as of the hands or toes after a bath, as pruned or pruney.
Dried prunes are a very sweet and moist dried fruit. They are usually black to brown in color and replete with wrinkles. They are either sun or machine dried, but then prior to packaging they are partially reconstituted. This accounts for their moistness as opposed to most other dried fruit.
As a food, the health benefits of prunes are significant. They have long been used to maintain healthy bowel activity, and are particularly helpful in ending constipation. A quarter cup serving of prunes contains a healthful 12% of one’s daily dietary fiber needs. As well, prunes are high in vitamin A, and potassium. The prune is also known for its antioxidant benefits, containing a fair amount of beta-carotene.
The prune can be eaten as is, or stewed to further plump them up. Stewed prunes with a little half and half or cream was once thought a pleasant dessert, as was the popular prune whip. Because of the use of prunes and prune juice to help with constipation, prunes began to bear undeserved negative connotations.
This has led in recent years to the prune being remarketed as the dried plum. For those who have always enjoyed prunes, the renaming seems somewhat silly. But for those who have negative associations with the prune, the “new” dried plum may tempt someone to try this sweet dried fruit.