Finding the perfect prune and the health benefits they provide.
Prunes have acquired a bit of a social stigma for their exceptional ability to relieve constipation. This one fact is so highly touted and well-known that many people forget just how healthy and versatile a prune is, even if for "regular" folks. While prunes are often thought of as simply any dried plum, they're actually marketed either fresh or dried and are from one of several prune varieties of plums. These plums tend to be smaller and have a pit that's easy to remove, as opposed to other varieties of plums where the flesh clings to the pit. Both dried and fresh prunes are extremely versatile, and can be used in desserts and main courses alike. Dried prunes are similar to raisins in their uses.
Finding prunes. In most cases, dried prunes will be the easiest to find. Simply look in the dried fruit section at your local supermarket for packages labeled as "prunes" or "dried plums." These are guaranteed usable at purchase, but you don't have to eat them right away. They generally have a very long shelf life. To keep fruit in opened packages tasting fresh, many people opt to wrap them tightly and refrigerate or freeze the unused portion. This isn't required to keep them edible, but will prevent them from drying out from exposure to the air. Fresh prunes have an even, deep purple or near-black color, and the flesh will be firm with a bit of give. Prunes have gone bad when they're extremely soft, possibly to the point of liquefying, and the flesh may be discolored.
Benefits of prunes. The most lauded benefit of consuming prunes, its benefit in regulating the gastrointestinal tract, is made possible by a combination of high levels of dietary fiber and a mild laxative effect. The Mayo Clinic points out other benefits: "Probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation . . . fiber can provide other health benefits as well, such as lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease." Prunes also have significant amounts of iron and protein, making them ideal snacks for anyone battling anemia or for pregnant women. More than the total daily requirement of vitamin K is in just one cup of prunes, in addition to potassium and a number of other essential vitamins.