California Dried Plums…Superfruits Solution To Raising Protein Value
By James Degen
 

California dried plums may be one of the most unique foods in nature. This uniqueness is derived from both the fruit itself and from processing. The California dried plum (Prunus domestica L.) is a Petit d’Agen variety with origins in France. In 1850 while others were attempting to mine for California gold, Louis Pellier, a French vineyardist, acquired a tract of rich topsoil near Mission San Jose. Here, he began experimenting with the cultivation of dried plums ?grafting choice cuttings of the d’Agen rootstock onto wild plum trees growing in the valley. As the seasons turned, Pellier’s patient work began to bear fruit, and the California dried plum was born.

 
While there are over 130 varieties of plums grown in California only about a half dozen have a high enough sugar content to be dried without fermenting while still containing the pits. In fact, prune-making plums contain twice as much total sugar at harvest than other varieties of plums. The processes involved in the production of dried plums have a significant influence on their chemical composition. The main sugars found in fresh plums are glucose, fructose and sucrose. Also, sorbitol is present.
 
When compared with fresh prune plums, the concentration of sugar increases in California dried plums, because of dehydration, but there are also qualitative changes in the proportion of individual sugars. The most striking change is the nearly total disappearance of sucrose, which is hydrolyzed to glucose and fructose during processing. The high temperature of drying disrupts cell structure, releasing fruit acids and invertase, which catalyze the conversion during the first few hours of drying. 
 
Dried plums are naturally rich in fiber (7.5%) and high in sorbitol (dried plum powder contains as much as 25% sorbitol) to bind and maintain moisture in red meat and poultry products (the addition of as little as 1-3% dried plums to the raw meat block can help to retain moisture). Dried plums' acidic profile, particularly malic acid (1.5-2%) along with a high antioxidant content (ORAC 8770) fend off the corrupting effects of bacteria and oxygen.
 
Superfruit dried plums naturally raises the value of underutilized proteins.
 
Beef value-added cuts are a recently developed line taken from the underutilized chuck and round. The line consists of steaks and roasts that help meat processors, retailers, foodservice operators and cattle producers improve overall profitability while supplying more options to their customers. They allow consumers to enjoy more great tasting steaks and roasts that are easy to prepare and often moderately priced.
The top blade steak is a smaller cut from the top blade roast. Other names for the top blade steak include lifter steak. Though a lowly chuck steak, lifter steak is tender enough to grill, broil, or pan-fry, as long as it is marinated first.  This is an economical and flavorful steak that is also great for making fajitas, London broil or substitute for flank steak or skirt steak.
Marinating is a critical step to tenderizing lifter steaks, particularly if the marinade includes plum juice concentrate and the lifter meat is vacuum tumbled. Plum juice concentrate is a USDA approved natural flavor that when combined with other flavor system ingredients also helps to tenderize as well as bind moisture all the way through cooking. Also important is the ability to shorten and simplify meat labeling with natural ingredients with known consumer identities. When processed using this method, lifter steak matches or exceeds that of flank steak and London broil.
 
Dried plums naturally raise the value of underutilized proteins. Texture, flavor and consumer ingredient acceptance results from dried plums’ unique composition. Labeled as “natural flavors?, the non-characterizing flavor of dried plums helps to improve the savory taste of proteins while rounding out the flavors of herbs and spices. Important for meat processors is the natural water-binding abilities of dried plum ingredients that when used in a vacuum tumbling process can add 12% or more weight much of which is retained throughout the final cooking process. The ability to control purge is improved. And dried plums’ natural antioxidants help to extend shelf life in fresh and frozen meat formats.
 
Supporting Research
 

A recently published Texas A&M lipid oxidation research study evaluating the use of dried plums in a pork sausage model concluded:

–Dried plums used at 3% or 6% levels was as effective as BHA/BHT for retarding lipid oxidation precooked refrigerated or precooked frozen pork sausage.
– Dried plums used at 6% was even more effective than BHA/BHT for retarding oxidative rancidity in precooked frozen pork sausage patties.
– All treatments increased moisture and decreased fat content of raw pork sausages, while the addition of 6% dried plums reduced cook yields.
Journal of Food Science 6/08
 
A second Texas A&M whole muscle research project more recently published in the Journal of Meat Science indicates:
–“These results indicate that 2.5% fresh plum juice concentrate or dried plum juice could be incorporated into precooked beef roasts to reduce lipid oxidation and potentially, warmed-over flavor?
Journal Of Meat Science 12/08
 
Dried plums do not impart a flavor to meat proteins but rather, enhance and round out other food flavors in a recipe or formulation. This makes dried plums the perfect ingredient for complete flavor systems whether sweet or savory and is particularly important when developing ethnic flavor systems with complex formulas and ingredients. All of these dried plum natural components contribute to extending the shelf life, safety and value of beef, pork, poultry, lamb and many other animal proteins.
 
Further research on the efficacy of dried and fresh plum ingredients used in meat and other food products can be found at: www.californiadriedplums.org
 
James Degen, CMC, is President of J. M. Degen & Company, Inc, a marketing consulting firm headquartered in Tucson, AZ: www.degenconsulting.com he is a member of IFT and the Research Chefs Association.