Dried plums raising their profile

by Laurie Gorton
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NEW ORLEANS — Dried plums — a.k.a. prunes — aren’t just for breakfast any more with the pureed version of The Amazing Plum now helping keep gluten-free foods moist and palatable, said Tom Leahy, who manages the Sunsweet Ingredient business of Sunsweet Growers, Walnut Creek, Calif.

The company exhibited at the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition held in New Orleans, June 21-24.

“We’re seeing more interest in plum puree to aid moisture retention, especially in gluten-free baked foods,” Mr. Leahy said. “The puree also acts as a fat replacer in these products and others. That’s an old application, but it’s getting more attention today.”

To solve a different kind of moisture problem, Sunsweet Ingredients introduced glycerin-infused dried diced plums. Low in water activity, this format won’t rob water from surrounding ingredients.

“This style opens up use of dried diced plums in trail mixes, nutrition bars and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals,” Mr. Leahy said. “Our discussions with various companies led us to this idea. It was something that hadn’t been tried before with prunes.”

The company built on its consumer Plum Amaz!in marketing campaign to show forms of dried plums tailored to food formulation. They may replace phosphates in meats and act as a natural antioxidant and humectant in baked foods. Prune powder fits protein-based applications, and its fiber content boosts the health-and-wellness appeal of many food types. As a food ingredient, dried plums can also have sugar-replacement functionality.

Dried plums may take on other flavors and provide a base fruity note, Mr. Leahy said. Sunsweet Growers recently introduced Amaz!n Berry Blend snack packs combining dried diced plums with dried cranberries, cherries and blueberries.

“In the U.S., we position these as ‘dried plums’ for the retail and food ingredient markets,” Mr. Leahy explained, “but the world knows them as prunes.”
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