September 1, 2013

Step away from my Plumcot

Pluots, Plumcots and Aprium - worth dishing out the extra money for, if you love flavor.

I received a text from my niece last week – “Uncle Matt - at the store, OK...what the hell is a plumcot? LOL" 

I replied " I don't know, but there is surely an ointment for it in aisle 3".

Ok my sophomoric readers..let's just get it over with right now.
These plumy new fruits sound more like naughty bits than, well, fruit. And even though fruit is technically "naughty bits' as far a plants are concerned, these new funny sounding fruits showing up at markets during high summer, are worth checking out - and here's why: They are yummy.

I want to convince you to try some velvety Peacotum, juicy plumcots, succulent Pluots, Dinosaur Balls, Colorcots, Pleury (OK, maybe this is a STD?), and Plucots. All are worth the extra price, and far superior to ordinary tasteless plums.

But what are they, exactly? And what's up with the funny names?  And for that matter, why are they so damn expensive? Do I really want to pay a dollar for a plum?  Sure, we've all balked at the prices for these fruit, with some selling for $2.99 and $3.00 pound, but just promise me one thing - before you pass on Plumco due to its price, try one, and try one now in early September, and not in January when they are being flown in from Chile. Eat them when they are in high season, when they are ripe and sweet as honey. In fact, try a few - buy a couple of pluots, or plum cots,  or even a new Aprium - for they are so incredibly flavorful and juicy, that they just might change your mind.

An Aprium has a super sweet flavor and a golden orange interior, hinting to its Apricot roots.
On a recent taste test, we discovered this entire new world of fruit.  Joe and I bought a couple of each variety this past weekend, and we ended up fighting ( I mean really fighting with yelling and all) about who should get the remaining few which we did not eat at the original taste test ( Joe even hid a couple so I could not find them because he said that he paid for them! Bastard.). We began by cutting up a selection of these velvety, plump fruit and placed them on a plate in a mock taste test. “Ooo, taste that one” and Oh My Gosh, wait until you taste this one. We are hooked, and forever dishing out a few extra dollars for these late summer treats.

Before you all start freaking out with worries about genetic engineering or Frankenfruit, just relax. These are not Frankenfruit, but rather just 'complex hybrids'.  I mean, Luther Burbank bred the first Plum Apricot more than a hundred years ago.  No Jellyfish genes have been added, these are the result of clever breeding within the genus Prunus. Today, a corporation-  a company named Zaiger Genetics (I know- bad name: Can you say Jurassic Park?)  owns the trademark for Pluot and for many of these fruit varieties, yet really, I'm OK with all of this. After all, they are the investors and the researchers who have invested millions of dollars and hours of  research into creating these tasty hybrids.  They should own the profits. It's a business. 

If I lived in California, or Oregon, I could grow many of these varieties, but I fear most are not hardy here in New England. At least, not yet.

Like wine grapes, when compared side-by-side, the flavor differences can be appreciated even more.

Regardless of the fancy, catchy or dirty marketing names and those icky trademarks, with labels and catchy brand names complete with circle R's or TM's and patent numbers, this is all just part of the business side of breeding plants today.  As time goes on, with a global market and millions of humans consuming produce, such ownership to intellectual properties will need to be tolerated if we are ever to expect improvements with our food sources - remember, many of these fruit are grown organically today. The result of science entering the breeding process has improved our grapes, cherries, plums and peached. So unlike tomatoes and the whole heirloom trend, smart consumers should know the difference with some crop research. All I know is this -  the experience of eating a meh meh a plum has been redefined, in fact, it's been significantly enhanced.

Mom nature knows these plant as simply as crosses  between a few closely related species, like Prunus armeniaca, Prunus salicina and Prunus persica, as well as their related older named selection. These are the plants which we originally knew as Apricots, plums and cherries. No one at Whole Foods is going to be interested in  a sticky label that says Prunus armeniaca x runus persica var. nucipersica on it. So we are stuck with‘Dinosaur Egg®’, it is a name that sells.

 Hybirdists simple ( or not so simple, hence the ‘complex part) developed these varieties by crossing a plum with an apricot. Botanists call these crosses Interspecific, which only means that they are crossing two different, yet closely related species together, often within the same genus, in this case, Prunus, 

What makes them ‘complex’ is that these are often not just 50/50 percent crosses, but more complex, which takes much more research and testing, so that breeders can take three or four generations to make a more flavorful plant. The result it that many of these hybrids have 70 percent apricot, and 30 percent plum, resulting in amazing flavor and textural differences. Mother nature and bees can do the same thing, but it just takes time.

Plumcots may look like plums on the outside, but inside, they are more than just tart, some
are spicy, or scarlet-red with honey-sweet flesh. Let's face it, most plums are simply sour, and watery.

We, the consumer, should rejoice and support these ‘new’ fruits, as they are enormous improvements over most any older varieties, which again, we should remember, we also  essentially cross bred in for hundreds of years, with humans – Luther Burbank even bred some pluot crosses. For hundreds if not thousands of years, humans made their own selections, passing on their favorite varieties which eventually became those trees which we know as prune plums, or older named varieties. Sometimes, an heirloom just is not a good thing, and so it is with plums.

At any good market this late summer, there are many varieties of these interspecific plum and apricot crosses being tested. Try a few. Compare them to your older varieties, and let me know what you think. Do a taste test with your kids. Buy one of each variety ( some stores carry nearly a dozen varieties of both new and old varieties of plums), slice them up, make card with the varietal names on them, and do your own taste test. I assure you, the result may be that you end up buying more expensive fruit, but the quality of these new varieties is undeniably far superior to older ones.

According to an article written by  Patricia Tanumihardja on NRP.org, “more than 20 varieties of pluots have been developed by Zaiger Genetics” and new varieties are being introduced every year. Be sure to start your research on the NPR page, and the Zaiger site, and work your way from there.

There is much demand for these new and improved hybrid fruits, and in fact, a majority of plums that you are already eating, or buying at your local market are in fact pluots. Not surprisingly, many stores are not labeling them as they know many customers arent’ familiar with them.


  1. From your comments, they must be really special. I will look for them (or perhaps I should not in case after I tasted them I stop liking my humble Damsons!)

  2. It's always nice to learn something new. I'll look for them to try.

  3. Anonymous11:25 AM

    It is remarkable that your apparently unfortunate tasting experiences with plums have led you to write, "Let's face it, most plums are simply sour, and watery." Even just decently ripe plums are very good, and picked when appropriate, plums are incredibly, wonderfully delicious. Sweet, rich, honeyed or tangy, juicy, whether Santa Rosa, Methley, Satsuma, or Green Gage, just to name a few cultivars. How strange to read your dismissal of the plum, I hope your readers will not be misled by it. Maybe you can find some well-grown, appropriately picked and handled plums and try again, so you can enjoy some excellent fruit.

    1. Anonymous10:47 PM

      ^ Plum grower

    2. Anonymous10:54 AM

      I must agree! Although pluots and apriums are the best of the best of the plum family,plums of most varieties are great also when you eat them in season! My all time favorite fruit by far and that is saying alot because fruit is the BEST!!! All fruit! Plums are just so yummy. I wait all year hoping costco will have more varieties. Come on summer?!!!

  4. Well, Anonymous, you are right. I've never tasted fresh, home-grown GreenGade plums, nor Satsuma - and that said, sugar content isn't everything. After all, I still prefer dent corn and old golden bantam varieties over super sweet varietings, and old apples like Cox's Orange Pippen hold their own against the newer high-sugar forms. We should all just grow what we enjoy, and let others make their own decisions, I suppose. There are great new and old varieties, but my point in that most commercial plums are bland, not choice heirloom varieties. FInd me a Northern Spy or a Cox's orange Pippen at my local market, and I would choose that over any commercially grow apple ( or plum)

  5. Anonymous12:26 AM



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