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« Avoiding Demographic Doomsday | Main | Bird Flu or Not? »

October 19, 2005

Dried Plums?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Have you tried shopping for prunes recently? In NYC grocery stores these days, containers full of dark dried fruits that resemble prunes are all labeled "dried plums."

How did that happen? Why has that happened? FailureMag's Jason Zasky explains that the prune industry is trying to appeal to a more youthful audience. Evidently the word "prune" sounds so very Grandma, while the term "dried plum" just rocks out.

Another interesting cultural note from Zasky's article:

The dried plum industry limited the name change to the United States. After all, in most European nations—especially France, Germany, Italy and Scandinavia—the prune is very much a part of consumer diets.

"Outside of the U.S. the prune has a very positive image," notes [industry spokesman] Peterson. "In Japan many people refer to it as the miracle fruit because of its health attributes. The only place we had a problem was the United States, and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom."

Pressing question for the day: What is it about the U.S. and the U.K. that looks askance at the word "prune"?



posted by Michael at October 19, 2005


Euphemisms for products and services are hardly uncommon. Consider "bathroom tissue" and "pre-owned cars," just to name two that come to mind. You'll note, however, that no one other than advertisers and sellers actually use these terms, consumers certainly never use them in conversation. Which means, therefore, that people are likely to be talking about prunes for many years to come.

Posted by: Peter on October 19, 2005 1:05 PM

It's not sexy.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on October 19, 2005 1:25 PM

Here in England, prunes = school. Over-stewed and disintegrating, floating in that suspicious brown liquid of theirs, and said to be good for the bowels ... as Nigel Molesworth said, the Prunes are Revolting. I don't blame the industry for trying to sell them as dried plums, but I'm still not going anywhere near them. Prunes are evil.

Posted by: oldbillie on October 19, 2005 2:40 PM

Mmm, plump juicy prunes with farmer cheese and honey in the morning...

Posted by: Tatyana on October 19, 2005 3:25 PM

Prunes are wrinkly as are raisins, another "fruit" with demand/supply problems. Our obsession with skin tone and botoxed facial surfaces ignores the fact that there's wisdom in dem there wrinkles.

Posted by: DarkoV on October 19, 2005 4:49 PM

Is anyone else old enough to remember the Stan Freberg ad for Sunsweet pitted prunes? They were a new item at the time, and a stern-voiced announcer confronted Joe Consumer with some. Joe didn't like prunes--he objected to their pits and their wrinkles. The announcer explained that they had removed the pits.

Joe: How'd you do that?

Announcer: Never mind. We did it. So how do you like it?

Joe: Not bad. But I still don't like the wrinkles.

Announcer: We're working on those. First the pits, next the wrinkles. Sunsweet marches on.

Why isn't Stan Freberg remembered more as the comedy genius he was?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 19, 2005 6:17 PM

Personally, I think they're full of prunes.

Posted by: Brian on October 19, 2005 7:40 PM

While raisins are associated with kids as an ingredient of cereals, and with the general population as a snack food, when I was growing up prunes and prune juice was more associated as a specialty food, often with older people as a mild laxative (as oldbillie noted, above.

Also, there are some names and words that become associated with an older generation, or with a relative lack of desirability. You don’t generally associate the names Gertrude or Bertha with a young supermodel. Similarly, prune, Prunella…. Not hot.

By the way, does this mean that the villain will have to be renamed Dried Plums Face instead of Pruneface if there is ever a remake of the movie, “Dick Tracy?”

Posted by: Alec on October 19, 2005 8:32 PM

French is certainly a far from dessicated language, but everything is dried out already! A grape is a "raisin" and a plum is a "prune"!

Posted by: winifer skattebol on October 19, 2005 11:08 PM

It may have something to do with the cultural shift being brought about through illegal immigration. Americans abandon prunes, pruning... Story developing...

Posted by: . on October 20, 2005 12:13 AM

What's wrong with calling a prune a prune? I like prunes, dammit. Calling them "dried plums" makes it sound like they are some kind of geezer tonic to be taken like medicine, when in reality prunes are tasty, even sexy, the king of dried fruit. I can't get enough prunes!

Tatyana is a woman after my heart. I'll bet she likes figs, dates and apricots too.

Posted by: Jonathan on October 20, 2005 12:34 AM

"Dried plum juice shall set you free" doesn't have the same ring to it, somehow.

Posted by: Dave F on October 20, 2005 3:55 AM

Jonathan, how did you guess?
In fact, I conducted a mini-survey in the office upon reading this post. Out of 4 employees (we're small company):
-a Fillippino guy said ALL dried fruits/vegetables are called prunes, apricots and mushrooms included. "Prune is the end product of dehydration". He prefers raw vegetables.
-an over-60 Italian-American woman loves prunes. "Dried plums? Balooney!" Has to mix'em with bananas though, you know, "muscles not being what they used to be".
- a guy from West Indies didn't know what a prune is. His only notion of a dried fruit is raisin, used for pastry or as a flavor to marinade.
-and me, my black coking book full of recepes involving prunes (braised veal with prunes and glazed baby-carrots, anyone?), dried cranberries (oatmeal cooked with milk, brown sugar, butter and cranberries)and apricots, called "kuragA" in Central Asia (lamb pilav with kuraga and other additives).

One of my fondest childhood memories is of buying a packet of dried dates, made in Turkey, on a small railroad station's platform, travelling East to Kazakhstan on an old train.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 20, 2005 8:26 AM

I'm with Tatyana. If I were the head of the prune-growers' association and I wanted to inject some vitality into the business, I wouldn't rename the fruit, I'd do what I could to make it sexy and luscious. What a wonderful, luxurious fruit it can be. (Although Oldbillie certainly evokes how horrible they can be too!) The Wife makes chicken and pork dishes featuring prunes, and they're poetic, sinful and luxurious -- exotic, juicy, sweet-tart: real aphrodisiacs ... Why not associate the word "prune" with sexy eating?

What puzzles me is that "dried plum" is so ... blah. So functional. It's about as sexy as "cardboard." If they're aiming at the youth market, wouldn't you think they'd come up with something kickier?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 20, 2005 9:58 AM

It’s difficult to find information in English, but my favorite candy in all the world is “Śliwka w czekoladzie,” or dried plums in chocolate:

They are quite sensuous, believe me.

Posted by: Searchie on October 20, 2005 10:27 AM

Very timely. Just bought a box last Sunday and noticed/wondered about the same thing. Hard to imagine what the gain is though. Who eats plums? Most kids could no more point out a plum than darn a sock. They're my favorite fruit when they're right. But they're so seldom right they've become, for me, a paradigm of disappointment.

Posted by: Sluggo on October 20, 2005 12:59 PM

As Sluggo points out, plums are divine.."when they're right". Hard, they taste like radials. Too soft, you can't be eating them in public as it looks like an unnatural sex act.
But, just right, with the eggplant purplish skin and the alien colored green insides, it's scrumptious.

My favorite way of eating a "just right" plum is my grandmother's way.
Pit it.
Wrap it in potato dough used for gnocchi.
Boil it for 10 minutes.
Serve with a topping of "sauce" made with browned bread crumbs and honey.

I don't think cooking prunes this way produces an equally tasty item. A shame.

Posted by: DarkoV on October 21, 2005 9:04 AM

Darco, are you Croatian? Here's another site for your blogroll:
Ana recently posted some Zagreb pictures, beautiful.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 21, 2005 11:08 AM

Darko, are you Croatian? Here's another site for your blogroll:
Ana recently posted some Zagreb pictures, beautiful.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 21, 2005 11:08 AM

My biggest problem with prunes is I didn't like how they tasted when I was a kid. They were mushy inside, Yee--uck. Although I admit they do sound good as a glaze for pork or something. And you know, if you take away the "meaning"---prune is kind of a pretty word.

But it just has bad meanings---including getting all "prune-y" in the bathtub.

Posted by: annette on October 21, 2005 12:17 PM

Yes, I'm Croatian and thanks very much for the site. I've been hanging out at Flickr site set up for pics from Croatia, recently. Not a good place to go if you've got the "I'm here not there" blues.

Posted by: DarkoV on October 21, 2005 3:22 PM

I for one am glad. I have actually often wished that prunes could be rechristened "dried plums" for just this very reason -- to put them on level with other dried fruits (dried apricots, anyone? Now there's a hip young sexy dried fruit -- it was a snack food staple in college) and remove the geriatric, laxative associations.

Same thing with prune juice -- is prune juice substantially different from plum juice, or could it just be called that? Or nectar, even? Just see the difference -- from "prune juice" to "plum nectar"!

Posted by: bluewyvern on October 25, 2005 11:44 AM

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