Whether you call them prunes or dried plums, they confer a variety of benefits as ingredients in baked foods and snacks. Recent work with nutrition, cereal, granola and snack bars confirms the ability of prunes to sweeten, texturize and fortify in a way that is both natural and clean label.

“One of the benefits is that you can list a pure fruit — plums or prunes — in the ingredient statement, giving a very healthy look to the label,” said Tom Leahy, president of CropSource International LLC, Walnut Creek, CA. His company manages the Sunsweet Ingredient business of Sunsweet Growers, Yuba City, CA, a cooperative of more than 250 farmers with orchards primarily in California’s Central Valley. “Prunes add sweetness without being a source of ‘added sugars.’ And the intrinsic fiber enhances the nutritional value of the bar,” he noted.

While the use of prune puree in bars is new, prunes have a long history as foods. The fruit tree originated in ancient western Asia, migrated through the Balkans and settled in Europe. A French vineyardist brought prune plums to California during the Gold Rush years.

Sunsweet uses only D’Agen plums for its prunes. These petite “improved French” prune plums contain a high level of natural sugars, allowing them to be dehydrated without risk of fermentation.

When plums are dried, they become prunes. The drying process concentrates their nutritional qualities but does not add sugar. Functionally, prunes provide adhesion, browning, gloss, humectancy, acidification, texturizing and shelf life enhancement. Nutritionally, prunes have long been associated with digestive health and show benefits for bone, digestive and heart health, as well as weight management and diabetes.

The co-op’s product developers recently found an opportunity in replacing the date paste often used in granola and cereal bars. At recent trade shows, Sunsweet featured these bar products, one heavy in nuts and the other with chocolate, cherries and nuts. “Both were well received,” Mr. Leahy said.

Prunes are chameleons. They provide a mild, dark fruity base-note that adds depth to other sweet or savory flavors present in the formulation. Prunes pair well with apple, apricot, currant, date, fig, lemon, orange, pear, raisin and tangerine inclusions. They have an affinity with tea and the spices anise, black peppercorn, cinnamon, clove and ginger. They also complement nuts, honey and white chocolate. By balancing natural sugars and organic acids, prune ingredients can reduce palate fatigue in sweeter applications such as bars and cookies.

Cutting the sugar in such formulas is possible because dried plums contain sorbitol in quantities much greater than dates or similar ingredients. “Use of prune puree allows the formulator to cut 30% of the sugar and add 50% more fiber,” Mr. Leahy said. “Moreover, the glycemic index (GI) of dried plums is just 29, a remarkably low number for any fruit.”

When developing a fruit-and-nut bar, Sunsweet researchers reported an unexpected benefit. They replaced 25% of the original formula’s date paste with prune puree and got a sweeter bar than when replacing 50% of the date content. This happened because prune puree’s tartness and the lower replacement rate allowed the sweetness of the date paste to come forward.

Bakers can order prunes in a variety of formats: plum and prune juice concentrates, prune fiber, powder and puree. Also available are dices and glycerin-infused pieces, carrying the Amaz!ns brand familiar to consumers through the co-op’s retail promotion efforts.

“The glycated pieces offer more persistent softness in bars, cereals and baked goods,” Mr. Leahy said. Gluten-free applications and healthy cookies benefit from the puree. “It provides these products moisture retention and reduced the added sugar levels,” he added. “Regular fruit dices tend to pull moisture from the other ingredients; glycerin-infused dices won’t.”

Sunsweet recently prepared a technical manual to assist formulation of granola, protein and nutrition bars. The report provides information about working with prune ingredients, including a matrix of their properties, nutrition analysis and formulation guidance. Sample formulas suggest marketing claims, and they are benchmarked against existing commercial products. Sunsweet prune ingredients are certified kosher, kosher for Passover and kosher pareve. The company operates special lines for halal and organic-certified products.

Readers can learn more about prune ingredients at www.sunsweetingredients.com.