Prunes: yes they’re wrinkly BUT delicious and good for you too
Prunes have always had a bit of an image problem – often teamed up with the words “wrinkly”, “old” or even “laxative” – they’ve had a bit of a bad press of late.
Classic 1970s school dinners didn’t help much either – lots of us remember prunes in their own juices (with the stones still in) and being made to eat up every last one before we left the table.Yuk!
Fact is though, prunes (dried plums with water extracted if you want to be technical), are just as healthy and delicious as some of their most glamorous superfood cousins such as blueberries and pomegranates – the “It Girls” of soft fruits . I’ve got some prunes on my desk as I write and they make great healthy snacks, but like most people I wouldn’t have a clue how to cook with them.
I should really say ” wouldn’t have had a clue” though, because that all changed when I got an invite to join celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager for a day in the kitchen at her fabulous new Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery School in Tunbridge Wells down in Kent. Turns out none of us really know what to do with prunes. Rosemary, the new brand ambassador for the California Prune Board no less, was on a mission to convince a dozen of us food and health writers that prunes are the new pomegranates and that we should all get over our unfair prejudices against them.I’m a great one for the underdog so I decided to give it a go.
Rosemary showed us just how versatile prunes are to cook with, gave us the recipes and ingredients and let us get on with it. An hour or so later we sat down to a three course prune-themed lunch we’d cooked ourselves – starting with wheaten prune bread, followed by a main course of chicken breast stuffed with prunes, chicken livers and rosemary, wrapped in strips of pancetta, on a bed of red Camargue rice(with prunes) and then prune and white chocolate Panna cotta for pud. You’re already smirking aren’t you? But no the food wasn’t horrible (it was absolutely delicious) and there was no queue for the loo afterwards either or any other digestive events later on to report. We health and food writers were collectively impressed . Who knew the humble prune was quite so versatile?
CAPTION: Below: Chicken breast with prunes, liver and rosemary served on a bed of Carmargue rice – with more prunes
Some health benefits of prunes
Just three prunes count as one of your 5-a-day fruit and veg – but they have other health benefits too.
- They keep you (ahem) “regular”: Indeed, last year the EU allowed the California Prune Board to make a health claim stating that eating 100g a day of prunes (that’s around 8-12 prunes) contributes to “normal bowel function” as a part of a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle. I think that’s the polite way of saying they help you avoid constipation and keep you regular. A study published in 2011 in the medical journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that prunes were a more effective treatment than psyllium (high fibre plant husks used to treat constipation – they work by drawing out water from the gut and making stools softer). The researchers concluded plums were “safe, palatable and more effective than psyllium for the treatment of mild to moderate constipation”. Obviously don’t overdo it though…. prunes can REALLY get things moving in the bowel if you eat too many of them because as well as fibre they contain sorbitol which also stimulates bowel movements. Start off gently with a few prunes a day and see what effect they have and gradually increase your intake if needed. If you have a long-term problem with constipation though its best to see your GP for advice.
- They may help with weight control: Surely not you’re thinking? Most diet sheets tell you to steer clear of dried fruits because of their high sugar content (30g of prunes contains 11.4g of sugar and 69 calories), but new research published by the University of Liverpool found dieters who ate prunes as a snack lost more weight than another group of dieters just given advice about healthy snacks. The more successful dieters said the prunes helped them feel fuller and less hungry. Whilst there’s no magic ingredient in prunes that helps you lose weight, the researchers concluded they certainly didn’t undermine dieting and their fibre content seems to help with satiety. Prunes also taste sweeter when they are cooked so can also be used as a puree in recipes which are traditionally high in sugar so that the overall sugar content can be reduced.
- They may be good for bone health: Prunes are a rich source of vitamin K as well as the mineral manganese and both contribute to the maintenance of normal bone health. A study at Florida State University published in 2011 found that post menopausal women who ate prunes had improved bone mass density compared to those who ate dried apple. The researchers thought this could be in part due to the fact that they suppressed the rate of bone turnover.
- They may be beneficial for blood pressure: This is due to their potassium content which can help maintain normal blood pressure.
- They may help you feel less tired: Prunes contain vitamin B6 which is important for energy release – so a great snack for between meals.
Need I go on? Anyway, I for one won’t be wrinkling my nose up at prunes anymore… I’ve banished those school dinner nightmares from memory and I’m actually looking forward to using them more in my home cooking – although I probably wouldn’t have them in every course just because they are incredibly filling and sweet.
Oh, and if you have any healthy or indulgent recipes using prunes you’ve devised yourself you could win a bread making masterclass for two with Rosemary Shrager on 10 May 2015 (including travel and overnight accommodation), plus a chance to have them published in an e-recipe book.Upload your recipes in either category at www.californiaprunerecipes.co.uk or visit the California Prunes Facebook page for details. Ten runners-up will each win a £100 supermarket voucher to spend in a store of their choice.