Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jujube Fruits (Red Dates): About and How to Eat

Jujubes! No, not the candy...

Welcome to another episode of "Fun, Weird Fruits"! While people who shop in Chinese markets will likely be familiar with jujube fruits (aka "red dates"), most of those who stick to the typical western grocery stores won't have encountered them.

For those not in the know: Jujube fruits have been cultivated in China for thousands of years. Although they are sometimes called "red dates," they aren't related to dates. They grow on a deciduous tree that sports shiny oval leaves, naturally drooping limbs and thorny branches.

Read on for selection notes, how to eat Jujubes, and a few recipe ideas.

Other Names: Jujubes a.k.a Red Dates a.k.a. ....

Common names include jujube, Chinese date, Chinese apple, tsao, Korean date and Indian date. Although jujube goes by many names including "Red Date," it is not a date, and is not related to the medjool and deglet dates you'll see in grocery stores. The name Red Date comes from the fruit's similarity in appearance and flavor, when ripe and dried, to dates.

Jujube Flavor When Fresh and When Dried

There are over 700 varieties of jujubes in China, and about 40 varieties in the U.S.

When eaten fresh, varieties developed for drying will have a dry, mealy texture and won't be very sweet. But varieties produced for fresh eating will have a crisp texture like an apple, and will be sweet and tasty; Unfortunately, varieties for fresh eating have only recently (1990's) been introduced into the U.S. and are not very common yet, so they will be more difficult to find.

Dried jujubes have a taste similar to that of a dried date. For more on the history of jujube cultivars in the US, this is a great resource:

Size of Fruits

The size of jujube fruits varies depending on the variety. In stores, they're commonly oval shaped or roundish and about two inches long. Larger varieties exist, including 'Li' (3-ounce fruits), 'Shanxi Li' and 'Chico GI-7-62' (round fruit with flattened bottom).

Selecting Ripe Jujubes

Young fruit is light green. As it ripens, it grows more yellow on color, and reddish-brown spots appear on the skin. A fully ripe jujube is reddish-brown all over and slightly soft and wrinkled. For fresh eating, most people consume jujubes before the fruit become fully red, soft, and wrinkled: the fruit will be crisp, lightly sweet, and apple-like in texture. Store jujubes in the refrigerator.

How to Eat Jujubes

Jujubes are eaten fresh, dried, pickled, candied, made into the jujube equivalent of apple butter, made into syrups for sweetening teas and dishes, and pitted and preserved in liquor for use in cooking. You can use fresh jujubes in place of fresh apples in recipes, and you can use dried jujubes in place of raisins or dates in most baked goods.

Jujube Recipe Ideas

Candied Jujube Recipe

2 lbs dried jujube
3 1/3 cups cold water
3 2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp corn starch

1. Wash and drain jujubes. Prick each jujube a few times with a fork. Mix cold water, sugar, and cornstarch, and bring to a boil. Add jujubes. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and refrigerate overnight.
2. In the morning, return the mixture to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Then, remove jujubes from the syrup and place on foil-lined pans. Place the pans in a 275F oven and bake for 2 to 5 hours or until dry to the touch.
3. Save the remaining jujube-infused water for the syrup recipe below.

Jujube Syrup Recipe

Place the remaining jujube liquid from the Candied Jujube Recipe in an uncovered pot and boil until it has reduced to about 1 1/3 cup.

    More Fresh Jujube Recipes to Check Out

    More Dried Jujube Recipes to Check Out

    Where to Find

    Visit your local Chinese grocery, if you have one, and keep your eyes peeled for these treats! You may also spot them at a local farmer's market if you live in California, Texas, or another state with a warm climate. You can also try growing a jujube tree yourself if you live in a hot, dry growing climate like that of Texas. The plant is incredibly hardy and thrives on little rain and high temperatures.

    So, how did I eat mine? I ate about half of them fresh and chopped up the other half to add to a hearty stew!

     Hope this inspires some of you to hunt down a few jujubes yourselves!