A dark horse.
I’m attracted to black foods. I’m not sure why: perhaps it because they are so unusual and mysterious? Perhaps it is because it is unlikely that something so unattractive and sinister looking can actually be edible? Just think Japanese nori (seaweed), eggplant, squid ink, black beans and Vegemite (yeast extract spread). But my all-time favourite black food is the humble prune. You’d just never expect these shrivelled little uglies to taste as good as they do, and their nutritional goodness is also surprising. This dark horse is actually a dried plum, which probably explains why they are low GI and such a rich source of nutrients and phytochemicals. Calling them dried plums also seems to make them sound so much more attractive, and goes some way to make up for their shortcomings in the looks department.
The best plum variety to dry into prunes is the Ente, developed by French monks in the thirteenth century, and the prunes are called D’Agen. They are a good source of vitamins A and C, and contain potassium, calcium and iron. But I suppose they are most famous for their effect on the bowels. Prunes are renowned for getting things moving and this is due to their fibre and natural sorbitol content. Both whole prunes and prune juice have provided relief to those suffering constipation for generations, and are the go-to natural cure recommended by just about everybody. Nowadays of course, we know they are high in FODMAPS (poorly digested carbohydrates) that have adverse effects for many people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), but this is a small detail in their otherwise glowing report card.
Prunes are more than their goody-two-shoes reputation: they taste delicious and are marvellously versatile. Traditionally served at breakfast as compote or on top of cereal, they offer so much more than a healthy start to the day. They are compact and travel well making them the perfect snack on-the-go, especially mixed with nuts and particularly those with bitter flavour notes like walnuts and pecans which provide good contrast to the rich sweetness of the prunes. Their sweetness and gooey texture are ideal for making uber-trendy bliss balls (or protein balls), and add richness to cakes, loaves and slices, and especially yummy when partnered with cocoa (See Anneka’s delightful recipe below). Their slightly tart sweetness and exotic colour make them sensational in crumbles, puddings and tarts. And prunes work well in savoury dishes too: who could forget the retro-classic Devils on Horseback – prunes wrapped in bacon (there are those dark horses again). They also add contrasting sweetness to poultry stuffing, sauces for pork and game meats, tagines, chutneys and cheese platters.
I read on the Australian Prunes website that the French so love prunes, they often present a beautifully wrapped box of them as a gift instead of chocolates. I’m not sure they’d have quite the same impact elsewhere in the world. What about chocolate coated prunes? Now there’s a winner, and something like ‘D’Agen au chocolat’ has a lovely ring to it!