Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The firm-fleshed prune plums dry well in the sun or during 18–24 hours in a dehydrator at around 175°F/79°C. They develop a rich flavor thanks to the concentration of sugars and acids—nearly 50% and 5% of their weight respectively—and to browning reactions that generate caramel and roasted notes as well as their color, a brown-black deep enough to be attractive rather than drab. This richness is the reason that prunes work well in many savory meat dishes. Prunes are such a concentrated source of antioxidant phenolic compounds (up to 150 mg per 100 gm) that they make an excellent natural flavor stabilizer: they prevent the development of warmed-over flavor in ground meats when included at the rate of just a few percent (1 tablespoon per pound). They’re also rich in moisture-retaining fiber and sorbitol and so are used to replace fat in hamburgers and a variety of baked foods. (Dried cherries have many similar properties and uses.) Their well-known laxative action on the human digestive tract is not entirely understood but probably involves the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which accounts for up to 15% of the weight of both prune and juice. We can’t digest sorbitol, so it passes into our intestines where it may have a number of stimulating effects.