Jujubes are much revered in Chinese culture, not only as food but in tradional Chinese medicine. They are also popular in India. The tiny jujube fruit has numerous culinary uses and is packed with antioxidant goodness.
The tiny fruit known as jujube grows on the jujube tree ( ziziphus jujuba), and is indigenous to Asia, in particular the Indian subcontinent and China. Jujube fruit trees are evergreen and grow in tropical and subtropical regions. They can reach heights of around 25 to 34 feet and can often be seen growing wild along road sides and rice fields in India. Jujubes are highly prized in Chinese culture, where they have a long tradition in Chinese traditional medicine. This fruit is also very nutritious. Jujube fruit was unknown in the west before the 19th century when it was brought to the USA and Europe. Aside from China, India and Africa, this fruit is cultivated in relatively small quantities in the southwestern United States, southern Europe and the Middle East. The Jujube comes from the Rhamnaceae botanical family, commonly know as Buckthorn.
Jujubes can be oblong or round in shape, and can look like tiny apples. They are usually about the size of an olive but can be larger, depending on the species. Jujubes have smooth, shiny skin which is green when unripe, turning a reddish maroon as they ripen; often they are speckled as they change color. This fruit has white or pink flesh that is crunchy like an apple, yet not as sweet or juicy as an apple. The taste of jujube fruit is often sweet, sour and sharp with a slightly viscose texture.
There are two principle varieties of jujube. Chinese jujube,( Ziziphus zizyphus) also known as Chinese date because of its resemblance to dates, when dried. This variety is slightly larger and sweeter than its Indian cousin, Indian jujube or bher ( ziziphus mauritania). The Chinese jujube tree is also more hardy and grows in temperate climates, such as the Mediterranean region of Europe.
Gastronomical Uses: Jujubes are difficult to find fresh because their availability is limited. Jujube fruit is expensive to harvest and the fruit is susceptible to diseases and pests. Most often they are sold dried in Asian supermarkets. Dried jujubes are heavy, wrinkled and often sugared; they are much sweeter than fresh jujubes. There is also gourmet style canned jujubes. Jujubes, fresh or dried can be cooked and can replace dates in any recipe. Because of their high pectin content Jujubes are also used to make jams and compotes. In Korean and Chinese cooking they are used in soups and desserts. The Chinese also make a sweet paste from fresh or dried jujubes. The paste is used to make confectioneries, and most notably as a filling for mooncakes, traditional cakes prepared for the mid-Autumn or Mooncake festival.
Nutrition: The nutritional content of fresh jujubes varies from that of dried. Fresh jujubes are primarily a good source of vitamin C and potassium. They also contain magnesium, copper, niacin and iron. Dried jujubes contain more carbohydrate but have less fiber than fresh. They are much higher in calories, although they are more nutritious, and are an excellent source of energy. Dried jujubes are a good source of phosphorus, iron, copper and calcium.
Phytochemicals are found in the color pigments of plants, and are known to be powerful antioxidants when consumed. So far eight flavonoid or antioxidant groups have been identified in jujube fruit. Two of the flavonoids are spinosin and swertish. These flavonoids have sedative properties, which may explain why jujube seeds are used to treat anxiety and stress in traditional Chinese medicine. Another type of plant phenol found in this fruit is puerarin. Puerarin belongs to the group of phenols known as Isoflavones. It is a free radical scavenger, helps lower LDL cholesterol and its consumption helps decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Natures principle source of puerarin is the Chinese herb kudzu root. Another flavonoid found in jujuba fruit is apigenin. Apigenin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor activity. This flavonoid may help reduce the risk of cancer and may be useful in the treatment of allergies. Other sources of apigenin are the herbs chamomile, thyme and red wine.
Chinese information about the health benefits of jujube or Chinese date. Image credit. Primary image credit.
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