Plums are very seasonal ingredients. But when that time of year comes around, they’re in abundance!
Unfortunately, many people have a big misconception about these fruits and exactly what they taste like. And in all honestly, finding a good plum can be challenging.
Again, because they are seasonal, most producers sell everything they have, whether they’re good or bad! That means many people have experienced a sour or flavorless fruit instead of the deliciously juicy plum they should have had.
But what does a good plum taste like? If you can find a ripe fresh plum, it will have super-sweet, fruity, and slightly floral flavors and it should be extremely juicy and tender! Plums are incredibly flavorful, but only if they are at the ideal stage of ripeness.
So today, we will take you through the steps of picking the best plum for your needs! We’ll discuss not only the best times to pick plums, but also how different varieties will affect this.
And finally, we’ve included some fun flavor pairings you can try to develop your own sweet plum recipes!
What Are Plums?
Plums are a specific type of stone fruit that belong to the Prunus species. It is actually one of the first types of fruits that were domesticated by humans!
While no one knows exactly for how long these fruits have been grown, there are records dating back to the early 12th century on how to cultivate plum trees!
Now, what exactly do plums look like? There are a couple of different species and they all have very different appearances.
The most common plums are Japanese or Chinese plums, which have a deep reddish-purple color and are round in shape.
Then, the other common varieties are all European. Damson and Prune plums are both blue-purple in color, but Damsons have a more elongated shape than Prune plums.
Victorian plums are just as common and look similar to prune plums. But, what makes them unique is their reddish-pink color with yellowish-orange undertones.
Mirabelle plums are completely golden in color. Myrobalan (or cherry) plums are bright cherry-red. And finally, Greengage plums are, as the name suggests, green in color.
The exact size of the plums depends on the species and age. Most of them are medium-sized fruits with a diameter between 0.79-2.76 inches (2-7 cm). They are generally rounder, but some have an oval shape (like Damsons).
The skins of plums are all very smooth, blemish-free, and have a natural waxy surface. The flesh is always (or at least should be) very firm but super juicy.
When biting into a fresh, perfectly ripe plum, the juices will run down your chin! Sounds heavenly (and messy), doesn’t it?
Plums are drupes (a.k.a. stone fruits), meaning that they have a hard stone in the center. This stone (or pit) cannot be eaten and is often dried for gardening purposes.
What Do Plums Taste Like?
Plums are very similar to citrus fruits. There are quite a few different flavor profiles you can expect to find between the different species.
If you take a pear, for example, most of them have very similar features in both flavor and texture. But plums are diverse!
Most plums have a naturally sweet and very fruity flavor. Many people describe them as being similar in flavor to an apricot.
However, the sweeter plums are usually those that are darker in color (black, blue, or dark red). Red plums are often sourer and have very tart flavors too. These still have fruity and floral undertones, but are primarily sweet and sour.
How Sweet Are Plums?
This depends entirely on the variety you have. Some plums that we’ve tasted before are as sweet as pineapple! But others have very little sweetness and are overwhelmingly sour.
Your average plum will be as sweet as an apricot or a grape, but only if you have a ripe plum that is dark in color.
The riper the plum is, the sweeter it will be. But, after a specific amount of time, that ripeness turns to deterioration, which then decreases the sweetness again.
Ideal Qualities Of Fresh Plums
Now, the reason it is so important to choose a good-quality, fresh plum is because it directly affects the flavor.
If you buy and use unripe plums, the flavor won’t be as sweet as it needs to be.
If you buy over-ripe plums, they will have a bland, albeit slightly sweet, flavor — not to mention their overly soft flesh will be a challenge to work with!
So, what are the qualities of a ripe, fresh plum?
First, always look at the appearance. Naturally, the colors of the plum will vary depending on the variety you are buying.
However, all of them should have a bright color that is uniform. Some plums have shaded colors (a mixture of mottled red, purple, and pink), but it should look like that all over the plum, not only in one spot.
Furthermore, there shouldn’t be any blemishes, bruises, discoloration, or rotten pieces. The skin of the plum should also be completely smooth and not wrinkled. Wrinkled or shriveled skin is an indication of aging or drying.
If at all possible, choose plums with a little bit of stem attached. It’s not the end of the world if they don’t have this, but it will help them stay fresh longer.
Choosing a ripe plum is always best. The only exception is if it’s for a recipe that calls for unripe ones, or if you are ripening them at home.
A ripe plum isn’t soft; it should have a very plump and firm texture. If you gently press it with your fingers, the flesh should give in just slightly. But again, it shouldn’t be soft or mushy! That would mean the plum is over-ripe.
Ripe plums generally feel quite heavy for their size. They are dense fruits, which explains this. If they feel very light, it’s likely that they aren’t as juicy as you’d like them to be.
How To Use Plums
Plums are exceptionally versatile fruits. It’s no wonder they’ve been around and such a popular ingredient for so long!
If you aren’t planning on eating plums as-is, there are many different ways you can incorporate them into recipes. And that goes for under-ripe, perfectly ripe, and even over-ripe plums!
Now, just a word of caution when it comes to using plums in recipes — always use a plum that will go with the flavor profile.
For example, if you are making plum cake, a sour plum won’t be nearly as good. And, if you are making a plum pie filling, then super juicy plums might make the crust soggy.
Consider what you are making before choosing the best plum for it:
- Plum jam is one of the best recipes to make with any type of plum, and it’s a great way to utilize your harvest!
- Plum tarts are another great way to go. You can play around with the flavor and the way you cut the fruit — you can also make a plum crumble or upside-down plum tart.
- Plum chutney is another popular condiment and garnish. It can be made for a more savory flavor profile or a sweet one for desserts.
- Roasted plums go great with pork, beef, or lamb. They also make great additions to ice cream. You can even use them as a topping for bread or cake!
- These stone fruits are also great to add to salads — you can check out our flavor pairings below to see what you can create.
- You can use plums to make iced tea or smoothies, too!
- And finally, baked plum pudding is one of the oldest desserts made with this fruit.
Best Flavors To Pair Plums With
Plums are an incredibly versatile fruit that pairs well with thousands of other flavors.
So, now that you know what plums taste like, let’s take a look at the best way to pair those flavors with accompanying ingredients!
We have broken it up into various categories to make it easier to navigate. Let’s dig in!
Plums naturally pair well with other stone fruits. Peaches and nectarines are arguably the best combinations, but as we’ve mentioned before, plums are so similar to apricots that they will pair well with these as well.
Something that surprises many people is that plums pair well with raspberries and blueberries! Cherries are another natural pairing that is quite popular for baked or roasted recipes.
You can try other nuts, like pecans, but they sometimes have conflicting flavors depending on the type of plum you have.
Plums also go well with a variety of traditionally savory ingredients.
Plums pair well with red wine (especially heavier ones) and brandy. You can also incorporate them into dishes with beef (especially steak), pork (chops and tenderloin are best), and all cuts of chicken.