Sunday, October 14, 2012

All About Date Plums



Though few people have heard of date plums, the fruits go back centuries. In fact, some historians believe that Homer referenced the date plum in “The Odyssey.” In Part II Chapter 4, the journey goes as thus:

“On the tenth day we came to a strange country. Many of my men landed there. The people of the land were harmless and friendly, but the land itself was most dangerous. For there grew the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus that makes all men forgetful of their past and neglectful of their future. And those of my men who ate the lotus that the dwellers of the land offered them became forgetful of their country and the way before them. They wanted to abide forever in the land of the lotus.”


Literally translated, Diospyros lotus means “divine fruit” and in a more specific context, “wheat of Zeus.” In India and Pakistan, date plums go by “amlook,” “hamlock” and “amlock.” These names encompass all types of persimmons, though, and are not specific to this fruit. The moniker, date plum, is likely a literal translation from its Persian name of kormaloo.



Origin of Date Plum
Persimmon is native to China’s Himalayan region, but this particular specie is native to Iran, Turkey, and parts of southeast Europe. Indeed, many civilizations have records of the fruit that date back centuries.

Today, the fruit grows across the West Asia (such as Pakistan and Afghanistan), Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. It grows exceptionally well in Turkey and Greece, and the fruits are especially beloved in the Black Sea region.


A few types of date-like persimmons of the hundred or so varieties originate in India. Diospyros peregrine is native to West Bengal of India, but few care to cultivate it on account of its bland, unremarkable flavor. Another type indigenous to India, Diospyros melanoxylon, grows along the Coromandel Coast. It too has a lackluster flavor and is consumed only in the villages. In these areas, however, the trees hold great cultural significance. Among the Oroan tribes of central and eastern India, Diospyros melanoxylon branches ward off evil eye and are believed to have magical potency. Some farmers make a pole from the tinduka wood, believing the black coloring of the pole will cast an invisible shadow over tobacco and chili crops and protect them from sorcerers.



Availability of Date Plums in India
Diospyros lotus grows from Punjab to Kashmir, according to “Indian Encyclopaedia.” The Jhelum basin near the India-Pakistan border grows a handful of trees at elevations between 2,500 and 6,000 feet, as does the chilly Northern Trans-Indus region. Other date plum trees are found in Himachal Pradesh’s lush, mountainous Kullu district. In Punjab, locals make alcohol from the distilled fruits.


In northern Pakistan and India, the season is January through February. In China, the season is April and May.

Where to find Date Plums in India

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, vendors sell dried date plums as delicacies. In India, however, the fruit receives no such recognition despite the fruit’s deliciousness. Cooler regions in the north commonly cultivate the date plum’s relative—the fuyu persimmon—but not the date plum. Keep a lookout on the roads, gardens and villages in the border towns of Nepal and near Pakistan, as this will give the best chance of finding these small, succulent fruits.



Checking for Ripeness in Date Plums
Date plums ripen in two colors: orange-yellow, and purple. In both cases, the fruits should be picked when darker and mushy to touch. The darker variants turn brownish-purple when at their peak, and the yellow varieties become golden orange. Pick when dark and mushy to touch. Those living near date plum trees also report a musky, sugary aroma wafting from the tree when the fruits are ripe.

When sampling the fruit, no astringency should be present; if there is, the date plum still needs to ripen.

Taste of Date Plums

Date plums might be small, but their taste is bold. Its soft flesh packs a rich, sweet velvety taste enjoyed by most who try it. Unsurprisingly, date plum’s taste has hints of both dates and plums. When dried, the resemblance to dates is especially apparent. The fruits also have toffee notes in its sugary, succulent flesh. Date plum’s skin is edible, unlike the tannin-rich, bitter fuyu persimmon.

Nutritional Value of Date Plums
While little data exists for date plums. The nutritional value per 100g of the fruit’s close relative—the persimmon—is as follows:

70kcal
18.6g Carb (14% RDI)
2.6g Fiber (14% RDI)
Thiamine/B1 (3% RDI)
Riboflavin/B2 (2% RDI)
Niacin/B3 (1% RDI)
.1mg Pyridoxine/B6 (8% RDI)
8ug Folate (2% RDI)
269.7IU Vitamin A (12% RDI)
7.5mg Vitamin C (10% RDI)
.7mg Vitamin E (5% RDI)
2.6ug Vitamin K (3% RDI)
.1mg Copper (13% RDI)
9mg Magnesium (3% RDI)
.4mg Manganese (20% RDI)
17mg Phosphorous (2% RDI)

161mg Potassium (3% RDI)

Health Benefits of Date Plum
In folk medicine, persimmons treat hemorrhoids, dysentery and constipation. Its seeds are also a sedative. Persimmon’s astringent compounds fight against asthma, lung infections, hiccups, and diarrhea. In Ayurveda, tinduka treats ulcers and remedies vitiated pitta. The unripe fruit is constipative, cooling, and light.

Though science hasn’t yet confirmed the efficacy of staving off evil spirits, studies illustrate other properties of the date plum.
--Research conducted in Iran at the University of Mazandaran shows that date plum seeds have significant antioxidant, antihemolytic and nephroprotective compounds.
--A University of Calabria study published in 2009 indicates that D. lotus extract has substantial antiproliferative effects against 9 types of human cancer cells.
--A 2009 study published in the Research Journal of Phytochemistry reveals that date plum leaves have antioxidant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective activities with no signs of toxicity.
--According to the “Encyclopaedia of World Medicinal Plants,” Diospyros lotus contains a compound called betulinic acid. This substance is anticancerous against certain brain cancers, head and neck tumors, ovarian carcinoma and some human leukemia cells.


Date plum consumption comes with a health warning: the World Journal of Emergency Surgery published a finding conducted by scientists in Turkey indicating that date plum’s indigestible fibers might be at the root of gastrointestinal bezoars. Unripe persimmons have tannins called “shibul,” which, when eaten in large quantities, create a gummy-like ball that sits in the stomach. Over time, this ball develops a woody consistency and causes several stomach problems. However, bezoars generally occur in the stomachs of people who consume several persimmons a day over the course of many years.



How to Open/Cut:
Date plums require little preparation, as their skin and seeds are edible. Simply remove the leafy stem from the top of the fruit, wash, and eat out of hand. Or, cut into desired sized pieces and use in recipes outlined below.

Storage:
Do not refrigerate or freeze date plums, as they’re sensitive to chilling. Instead, leave at room temperature in cool, dry conditions. Keep away from other fruits such as bananas to slow the fruit’s spoilage. Also, spread the fruits apart from one another to prevent bruising—the skin is quite sensitive.


The fruits can, however, be frozen whole. Expect some loss of the robustness and vibrancy.

Date Plum Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Date plums can be used in the following ways:
--Blend the fruits with a bit of water, and spread on a parchment-lined baking tray. Dehydrate to make fruit leather.
--Make jam by boiling the fruit with sugar and lemon juice. Skim the surface periodically. Once the texture is sufficiently jam-like and has cooled, transfer to sterilized glass jars.
--Swirl the mashed fruit in any vanilla ice cream recipe
--Freeze the pulp with cinnamon-infused coconut milk. Blend the concoction until the texture resembles a smoothie or sorbet.
--Add the small, dried fruits to cereals, granola, and trail mixes


For more recipe ideas, see the entry on persimmons


Flavor Complements:
Fruits: Persimmon, plum, peach, apricot, grape, jamberry, date, fig, pomegranate, grape, peach, pear, cherry

Vegetables: Pumpkin, butternut squash, yam


Herbs, Spices, and Oil: Almond, walnut, hazelnut, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, anise, vanilla, bourbon, brandy, port, rum, raisin, brown sugar, honey, orange, pumpkin, raisin, chocolate


Random Facts:
A Chinese monk named Mu Qi painted a masterpiece called “Six Persimmons.” The fruit is an allegory for human nature: as the fruit ripens it gets sweeter. Likewise, as people age, they too become more beneficial to mankind in their openness and acceptance.

Scientific Name:
Diospyros lotus
Diospyros melanoxylon
Diospyros peregrine

Related Fruits:
Hachiya persimmon (Diospyrus kaki)
Fuyu persimmon (Diospyrus kaki)

Mabolo (Diospyros blancoi)




3 comments:

  1. I've never heard of date plums but they look gorgeous.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I live in central France and I have a Diospyros Lotus tree in my garden. It took me a long time to identify it as it doesn't appear in any standard garden book. It's a beautiful tree. It also exudes a sickly sweet smell most of the year, but I have seen no reference to that anywhere.
    This year's crop is plentiful as ever and this time we are definitely going to process and preserve some of the fruit when it's ready. You give a list of recipe ideas above, but have you got any specific recipes that I could follow?
    Thanks.

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  3. I am from Serbia and i have 3 diospyros lotus trees (one female and two male trees) 4 year old.
    My female lotus tree first blooming in year 2014 and first fruit :)
    I try to eat them unripe fruits and they have bad taste but whens ripe fruits have in my opinion similar taste like plums.

    Short video : http://youtu.be/Hou8d6hlDsc

    ReplyDelete