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Pluots

Pluots (ploo-ahts) are a relatively recent addition to the stone fruit family. They are an intentional hybrid created by naturally crossing a plum with an apricot using hand pollination. Pluots display more characteristics of plums than apricots, unlike other crosses that exhibit more apricot than plum, such as plumcots or apriums. Pluots are very sweet and intensely flavorful, with the juicy texture and tangy skin of a plum and the floral flavors of an apricot.

Posessing an often a beautiful and striking appearance, pluots can look exactly like a plum or have a unique mottled look that has caused some to refer to them as "dinosaur eggs." Each pluot contains about 45 calories and is a very good source of vitamins A and C, dietary fiber, protein and potassium. It also contains phytonutrients and antioxidants. Pluots are high in sugar, though, so don't overdo if you need to pay attention to sugar levels.

A pluot is a semi-freestone fruit, which means it has a pit, but the flesh comes away from it fairly easily in most varieties. And there are plenty of varieties, in colors ranging from black to green to red. In addition to the mottled "dinosaur egg" variety, there are black (dark purple), green, pink and red pluots.

Black pluots (Flavor Heart, Ebony Gold, Black Pearl) are magenta and pale yellow inside and taste the most like plums. Green pluots (Flavor Queen, Flavor Heart, Emerald Sweet, Mango Tango) are green with a red tinge and/or yellowish with pink to pale yellow flesh. Green pluots are very juicy and have a tropical fruit flavor. Red pluots (Raspberry Jewel, Flavor King, Sugar Heart, Midnight Jewel, Big Daddy) range from dark red to magenta inside and red on the outside. These are strong and often tangy sweet. Plus there is the mottled Dinosaur Egg variety, which is very sweet and juicy, featuring white/pink to dark magenta flesh.

The best way to enjoy a pluot may be the simplest—out of hand. Its juicy sweet taste is also perfect served sliced over breakfast cereal or in fruit or grain salads (like couscous). Blend it in smoothies, sauces for pancakes or barbecue sauces for meats and poultry. It also makes terrific ice cream, frozen yogurt and fruit popsicles.

Pluots are delectable in any recipe calling for plums or apricots, too. This rustic Cranberry Upside-Down Cake, for example, would be scrumptious made with pluots, as would any crisps, tarts or pies.

Pluots are available from late May through September. Choose fruit that's firm, plump and fragrant. Fruits should be firm yet yield to slight pressure; a very hard pluot won't ripen well. While pluots come in many colors, look for the most vibrant—these will be the sweetest fruits.

To ripen, store pluots in a paper bag at room temperature, or place them upside down on the counter, out of the sun, until ripe. Handle ripe pluots very delicately as they bruise easily. For best flavor, enjoy them as soon as they're ripe. Otherwise, you can store the ripe fruit in the refrigerator for up to four days.