At farmers markets, vendors often offer a variety of stone fruits — pluots, plumcots, apriums, and apriplums — that sound more like orbs of the astral variety than edible delights. So what are they anyway?
All four of these fruits are hybrids that combine varieties of plums and apricots, and the differences are subtle. Plumcots are first-generation descendants of a 50-50 plum and apricot cross. In the 1980s, Zaiger Genetics trademarked the term “pluot,” a term that refers to dozens of varieties, from Dapple Dandies to Flavor Grenades, that have a higher plum-to-apricot ratio.
Like pluot, “aprium” is a Zaiger Genetics-trademarked name bestowed upon a plum-and-apricot-crossed fruit, only this time, apriums have a higher apricot-to-plum heritage. These hybrids resemble apricots, down to the orange flesh and slight fuzziness. Apriplums have a long history like the plumcot, and these days, the term is used to describe apricot-plum crosses not created by Zaiger.
As a result of their heritage, plumcots and pluots have a flavor closer to plums, and apriplums and apriums taste more like apricots. One thing these hybrids have in common is intense sweetness, thanks to their high sugar content. Use them in pies, crumbles, salads, and dishes that call for other stone fruits. And next time you spot these strangely named oddities of the fruit world at the farmers market, ask for a taste. Their flavor is out of this world!
Image Source: Flickr user clayirving
How to grow a pluot tree, the plum/apricot hybrid
What’s better than a plum and an apricot? Combine the two and you get the best of both fruit.
Words: Ben Gaia
Finally I can answer the burning question: what is a pluot?
In California’s San Joaquin Valley, world-renowned fruit breeder Floyd Zaiger arguably developed the perfect fruit back in 1990, a sweet, juicy, luscious plum-apricot hybrid known as a pluot.
In detail, a pluot is a plumcot (half plum, half apricot) back-crossed with a plum, making it more plum than apricot although there are arguments about just how much plum and apricot there is. It usually has a smooth skin without fuzz. I finally encountered some huge yellow pluots for the first time at a Hokitika market. I eagerly took them home and tucked in with glee, dribbling rivers of juice all over the kitchen.
To me, they are a very big, very sweet, juicy, yellow plum with a smooth skin. I tried to find out what variety of pluot they were, but that turned out to be a mystery. Hawkes Bay and Otago growers produce yellow ones with a red blush, including Flavour Grenade (oval with a red blush from sun) and Emerald Drop (medium to large size, green skin and yellow-orange flesh) but none of these fitted what I was eating.
I can only conclude that my ones were probably imported from California, and are the variety Flavor Queen, a mid-to-late season variety, medium to large-sized, with yellow skin and sweet, juicy, yellow flesh of excellent flavour. This has a description, and suggestions for pollenisers including Dapple Dandy, and Santa Rosa for Dapple Dandy itself.
What’s my verdict? The pluot is very, very sweet so small children love it. It looks like a ripe greengage but I suspect lovers of those plums prefer their intense tart flavour.
The skin is rather thick, and it needs to be as each fruit contains what seems to be several litres of juice. I think it would work best as a sweet stewing plum, although none of the ones I bought lasted – we ate them!
They appear in the hottest part of summer and taste sensational cold from the fridge. But I also made one of those accidental, delicious discoveries after cutting up a fresh red chilli pepper, neglecting to wash the knife, then cutting up and eating a pluot. Cold pluot with a hint of chilli on a hot day is absolutely fantastic.
3 TIPS FOR GROWING A PLUOT
• The trees are not available for sale to home gardeners in this country so you’d need to grow them from seed. They’re a crossbred so you will get some sort of pluot from the seeds, but not the same variety as you plant. I will plant my seeds after freezing them, and find out what is produced in a few years.
• Pluots were developed in California but grow very well in the stonefruit areas of New Zealand – commercially they are grown with plums in the orchards of Hawkes Bay and Central Otago, so you could assume they like cold dry winters and hot dry summers.
• Late frosts would be a problem – I would recommend irrigation for plumping the ripening fruit in these areas.
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This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine. Discuss This Article
Pluots And Apriums: The Best Of Both Parents
The crossing of plums and apricots has resulted in dozens of varieties of pluots, like these early queens. Pat Tanumihardja for NPR hide caption
toggle caption Pat Tanumihardja for NPR
The crossing of plums and apricots has resulted in dozens of varieties of pluots, like these early queens.
Pat Tanumihardja for NPR
Get recipes for Broiled Apriums With Cardamom Creme Fraiche, Pluot Tartlets and Pluot Salsa.
Plumcots, pluots and apriums can be eaten out of hand or put into tarts, pies and crisps. They’re also tasty in salads. Basically, they can be used in any recipe calling for stone fruit.
Purchase fruit that is plump and firm to the touch. Avoid fruit that is pale or has any bruising or cracks in the skin.
Ripen at room temperature in a closed paper bag until fruit is fragrant and gives to light pressure. Then refrigerate for up to three days in a plastic or paper bag. Bring to room temperature before eating for the fullest flavor.
More On Pluots And Apriums
The sweet, juicy, deep red flesh of the flavorosa pluot. Pat Tanumihardja for NPR hide caption
toggle caption Pat Tanumihardja for NPR
The sweet, juicy, deep red flesh of the flavorosa pluot.
Pat Tanumihardja for NPR
About The Author
Patricia Tanumihardja writes about food, travel and lifestyle through a multicultural lens — she has lived on three continents and speaks four languages. She manages the Pacific Grove Certified Farmers Market on California’s Monterey Peninsula. Her book The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook will be published by Sasquatch Books in October 2009. Please visit her and blog.
Taking On The Whole Fish March 18, 2009
One summer not long ago, my nose, discerning the unmistakable fragrance of summer’s sweet stone fruit, led me to a canopy-covered market stall. As I inched closer I found, nestled among the everyday plums and apricots, plum imposters in shades of yellow, green and purple, and bright orange apricot look-alikes smudged with a peachy-red blush.
The friendly farmer, Tony Inzana, introduced me to pluots and apriums, complex hybrids of plum and apricot, or, in science-speak, interspecifics. Inzana held out a rosy specimen, rubbing the smooth, purple-black skin of a flavorosa pluot lovingly between his thumb and forefinger. Because a pluot is mostly plum, it looks more like a plum than an apricot. However, its insides are soft and grainy, unlike the firm flesh of a plum. I took one bite, and its floral and candy-sweet flavor exploded in my mouth, and juice dripped all over my fingers.
The aprium, on the other hand, has skin covered with scant fuzz and tastes like a sweeter apricot with a hint of plum.
Inzana grew his first pluots and apriums on his farm, Inzana Ranch, in Hughson, Calif., in 1997. “I had a desire to plant something interesting and … I like to take things that are unusual to sell at the farmers market,” he says. Today, he has about 80 pluot trees and 40 aprium trees with zany names like flavorella, flavor grenade, flavor king, flavor queen and flavorich.
Interspecific fruits, however, have a much longer history.
More than a century ago, horticulturalist Luther Burbank bred the plumcot with a 50-50 plum and apricot split. However, it was Floyd Zaiger who revolutionized the fruit and made it widely available.
Zaiger bred the plumcot with a plum to create the pluot — three-fifths plum and two-fifths apricot — and coined the trademarked moniker. While the plumcot is a simple plum and apricot cross, pluots and apriums (70 percent apricot and 30 percent plum) are the result of intricate crossbreeding over several generations.
Before visions of Frankenfruit start taking shape in your mind, let me reassure you that the fruit are crossbred naturally. Zaiger performs no genetic modification and accelerates the natural selection process through hand pollination.
“We’re like bees in nature,” says Leith Gardner, Zaiger’s daughter. “We take the pollen from one selection of fruit and combine it with another.”
Unlike bees that flit from flower to flower in a matter of minutes, developing each hybrid takes 12 to 15 years, Gardner says. The final fruit adopts the absolute best qualities from the plum and the apricot. With a higher sugar content than that of a plum or an apricot alone, both the pluot and the aprium are known for their sweetness and intense flavor.
More than 20 varieties of pluots have been developed by Zaiger Genetics, and more are being developed each season. Each variety comprises a different percentage of plum and apricot genes resulting in fruit of myriad physical attributes: Their skins can be saturated in golden yellow or pale green speckled with magenta, and their flesh range in color from creamy white to blood red.
Half a dozen aprium varieties are currently on the market, all with bright orange skins and flesh. A white-fleshed aprium will soon be distributed commercially.
Demand for these hybrid fruits, especially pluots, has skyrocketed. Pluots now make up a majority of the plum market. In fact, you might be eating a pluot or an aprium and not even know it. “Some stores don’t want to label them because they don’t want to create another space for a fruit that looks similar, or that customers aren’t familiar with,” Gardner says.
Grown predominantly in Washington and California, pluots are widely distributed in Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, and increasingly in parts of the Midwest and on the East Coast as varieties suited to these climates are developed. Apriums are a little harder to grow outside the Northwest and California.
Depending on your location, pluots and apriums are available May through October at specialty food stores, online and, of course, at the farmers market.
The Secrets of Hybrid Fruit
Welcome to the era of nectarcots and peacotums. These fruits are the resulting hybrids from stone-fruit breeding. Over the past few decades, botanists, horticulturalists, and biologists, who believe in the scientific and inventive expression of selective breeding, have turned their attention from perfecting fruit color, robustness, and size, to developing palatable, imaginative tastes. As our desire for new foods grows alongside agricultural developments and breeders remain inquisitive and passionate about new tastes and edible varieties, consumers welcome new products to the supermarket with curious hesitancy. When you bite into an aprium or a jazz apple, what is it that you taste?
You’ve seen hybrids before, perhaps without even knowing it.
1. When You Cross a Plum With an Apricot A hybrid fruit is the result of cross-pollination of two plants from the same species or genus. When humans intervene in the process by selecting plants to pollinate for intentional results, the procedure is painstakingly meticulous and monitored. It may take years of selective breeding to produce a desired fruit. The plum-apricot hybrid known as the “pluot” took biologist Floyd Zaiger around 20 years to perfect before he introduced it to the market. Different from open-pollination (which is uncontrolled or varied pollination by insects, birds, winds, or natural causes), when the human hand brushes pollen from the male flower of one plant to the stigma of the flower of a female plant this type of hand-pollination delivers controlled results.
So what do you get when you cross a plum with an apricot? Well, it depends on the characteristics selected for breeding. A pluot is a hybrid of plum and apricot, dominated by plummy characteristics and lighter on the apricot. A plumcot is a 50-50 breed of plum and apricot, and an aprium is a hybrid essentially the opposite of the pluot: a slightly fuzzy fruit with mostly apricot flavor and a hint of plum. These results can then be selectively bred over generations to produce identical fruit. Most hybrid seeds, however, are unpredictable variants of their parents’ characteristics; some may even be sterile and not produce fruit of any kind. So to preserve a favored hybrid, breeders will often graft fruit trees to clone their fruit.
2. Grafting an Apple So That It Stays an Apple If you plant an apple seed, its offspring will produce entirely random results. Apples harvested from seeds produce what are called “extreme heterozygotes,” or fruits that display unpredictable characteristics often only distantly related to their parent DNA. To guarantee that a Gala apple will produce new generations of Gala apples, breeders reproduce this fruit by a method known as grafting. Leaf buds from the desired apple variety are collected from an existing tree and inserted into the root system of another tree. The root section of the tree provides the buds with a nutrient system, as that root is already accustomed to the soil and environmental surroundings. Usually the leaf buds, or scion, are collected while the fruit tree is dormant in the winter. Then the scion is inserted into the root in April or May, just as the tree begins to blossom. Trees will produce fruit after a few growing seasons.
Not to be confused with genetic modification, selective breeding by humans does not include genetic engineering of specific DNA. Genetic engineering is the process by which genes from unrelated species are isolated and collected to form new gene constructs. A genetically modified soybean that is resistant to herbicide has been genetically modified for optimum herbicide-resistance; its DNA has been tweaked to include an herbicide-resistant gene taken from bacteria. When humans choose to propagate natural descendents of an apple, a hybrid of a plum and apricot, or even a banana, they play a Darwinian role in self-selecting an advantageous variety—a subjective study dependent on a breeder’s objective.
3. Stone Fruit Masters Fruit breeding is a centuries-old practice by which plants have been selected and promoted to appeal to tastes, harvesting requirements, nutritional value and aesthetic charm. In the last 100 years, America has benefited from three important breeders who have tinkered with fruits to produce alluring offspring. The renowned 20th-century American botanist Luther Burbank first made a name for himself when he invented the Burbank potato. Decades later, McDonald’s now uses a variety of this spud—the Russet Burbank potato—for French fries. But Burbank also produced 800 plant breeds—200 or so of them being fruits. Ever hear of the Santa Rosa plum, the plumcot, or the white blackberry? These fruits bear Burbank’s patented names. From his instruction, Fred Anderson, known as the “father of the modern nectarine,” and his own protégé, Floyd Zaiger, creator of the pluot hybrid, continued the scientific study of stone fruits. Zaiger is the only one of the trifecta still living and his company, Zaiger Genetics, owns more than 90 U.S. plant patents, including the nectarcot and peacotum.
4. In your grocery aisle You’ve seen hybrids before, perhaps without even knowing it. Our yellow banana, otherwise known as the “dessert banana,” is actually a hybrid scientifically named Musa × paradisiacal. Boysenberries are a hybrid between a blackberry and raspberry, Meyer lemons are a hybrid of a lemon and a Mandarin orange, kiwis are hybrids of the genus Actinidia, and grapefruits are an 18th-century hybrid originally bred in Jamaica. Apples—Braeburn, Macoun, Macintosh, Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious—are also familiar hybrids.
5. In your future grocery aisle When hybrids earn an officially recognized name by the government, their developer is granted a patent. Every new blend of fruit may be trademarked as something “distinctive.” The pluot, for instance, is legally different from another apricot-plum hybrid, the “Dinosaur Egg,” sold on the market today. Consider the endless possibilities: a nectacotum (hybrid of apricot, plum, and nectarine), the peacotum (hybrid of peach, apricot, and plum), the nectarcot (hybrid of nectarine and apricot) or the lemonquat (hybrid citrus of lemon and kumquat with an edible rind). The once-exotic tangelo, a cross between a tangerine and either a pomelo or a grapefruit, now seems ordinary in the face of next-generation fruit hybrids that tempt us with their good looks and striking tastes.
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Stacey Slate is a food writer in New York City. She has contributed to Mark Bittman’s New York Times blog, Bitten, and is also a writer for Civil Eats and a new print publication, Remedy Quarterly.