On the Table

On the Table: Eat like the French do - enjoy prunes

Contributing CorrespondentMarch 25, 2014 

— Europeans eat prunes. Americans do not.

It may be a generalization, but recent experience underscores my observation. Prunes have been a feature on the hotel breakfast buffet every day this week in Paris, where I’ve been teaching global public health.

In fact, I used prune jam on my bread as well.

I mentioned in a recent column a comment by a reader who lived in France for several years and witnessed mothers routinely feeding prunes to their children for breakfast. Europeans don’t stop there.

They use prune filling in cookies and pastries. In France, a rich, soufflé-like dessert called clafouti has whole prunes baked into it.

And in Eastern Europe, prune paste is used to make kolache, a traditional, rolled yeast bread with swirls of filling.

A number of years ago, food marketers in the U.S. tried to trick us into eating more prunes. They started a campaign to reframe prunes as “dried plums” and sold them in snack bags.

I don’t think it worked. Too bad.

Prunes are delicious, nutritious and versatile. They’re exceptionally high in potassium and a good source of dietary fiber. It only takes a few to add a substantial amount of nutrients and flavor to other foods.

If you care to give prunes a try – or maybe a second chance – here are some simple ways to use them:

• Slice them into a bowl of hot oatmeal or your cold cereal. I like prunes with nonfat, plain Greek yogurt mixed with Swiss muesli and coconut-almond milk.

• Chop and stir them into batter for muffins and quick breads.

• Cook them on the stove top with dried apricots and apples to make fruit compote. Check the Web for easy recipes.

I like stewed prunes with French toast.

Of course, prunes also have value for being a time-honored, natural laxative. They’ve been a staple among the silver set for that reason for generations.

How they exert their special effect is unclear. It may be related to the high sorbitol content of prunes and their ability to absorb water in the intestines.

If you get hooked on prunes, remember that they’re sticky. Brush your teeth.

If not, then at least be aware of their value and give them a try. Don’t wait until you’re 80 to discover the power of prunes.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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