A fascinating fruit from China, jujube is a nutrient-packed drupe used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. This sweet fruit is also an excellent food supplement and additive commonly used in desserts, salads, stews, drinks, and sauces.
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What is a Jujube?
Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) is a fruit originating in China. However, jujube cultivation is now common in different parts of the world, including Europe, America, India, Australia, and Africa.
Jujubes are edible drupes that also go by the names red dates, Chinese dates, Chinese jujubes, and lang jujubes. Since wide varieties of jujube trees exist, the fruits also vary in shape and size. So, you’ll find round, oval, or pear-shaped jujubes. And they may be as tiny as cherries or as big as plums or small apples (0.75-2.75 inches long and 0.375-1.125 inches wide).
These ancient superfruits have a single pit (stone) like dates, but their skin isn’t as smooth. Jujubes are green when immature and turn dark or reddish brown to purple when they ripen. They have a crisp white flesh akin to an apple. But it softens and becomes chewy as the fruit dries.
Jujubes have a lightly sweet flavor when ripe. They’re also loaded with nutritional elements, including vitamins and minerals. And that makes them an excellent snack. Add them to your salads, juices, desserts, or stew dishes.
The History of Jujubes
Although you can find jujubes in many regions worldwide, the fruits are native to China in Southern Asia. Jujube cultivation dates back to over 4,000 years ago in the middle and lower parts of the Yellow River. Initially, sour jujubes existed, but people gradually improved the fruit’s flavor and size through selective propagation.
Jujube farming first spread to China’s neighbors and then to Europe through the renowned “Silk Road” during the Christian era around 2,000 years ago. Finally, the fruit landed in the USA in 1837 when Robert Chisholm brought jujube seedlings and planted them in Beaufort, NC. Rixford also introduced jujubes from southern France to Sonoma Valley, California, and neighboring states.
More than 80 jujube cultivars are now grown in China and other countries, including Australia, the USA, Spain, and Syria. However, China is still the largest jujube producer globally.
Jujubes have been used as herbal medicine in China and Korea for centuries. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, jujubes are believed to relieve stress and anxiety, enhancing sleep. The fruits also have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic, and anti-ulcer properties.
In addition, these flavorful fruits are popular ingredients in traditional Chinese dishes, such as the Jujube date sticky rice cake. People also snack on ripe fruits during the Chinese New Year’s celebration as a sign of good luck, wealth, and prosperity.
In Japan, jujubes are widely used in brewing herbal jujube tea. They are often an essential part of the Japanese tea ceremony.
Jujubes have garnered spiritual significance in Arabic-speaking countries. For instance, jujube trees are mentioned in the Holy Quran. Moreover, in Al-Qurnah, Iraq, locals regard an ancient jujube tree as the Tree of Knowledge mentioned in the Bible.
What Does a Jujube Taste Like?
Raw (unripe) jujubes are crunchy and may be bland or sour; however, once ripened, the fruits attain a lightly sweet flavor. Although the two fruits have different tastes, you can liken this sweetness level to an apricot’s. Fully ripened jujubes are delicious and have a soft texture. But they are sweetest and chewy when dried.
When cooked, ripe jujubes add a sweet flavor to dishes, including stewed vegetables, broths, porridge, and soups. On the other hand, dried jujubes have a more caramelized flavor, making them popular ingredients in jams, marmalade, cakes, and sauces.
How to Tell When Jujube is Ripe
Here are guidelines to help you know when jujubes are ripe and ready to eat:
|Ripe jujubes are dark red, reddish brown, or purple. So, you’ll know that a jujube fruit is unripe if it’s mottled green or yellow-green.
|Jujubes have a crunchy texture when raw or immature. The flesh underneath the skin is crisp and snap-like like an apple’s. The skin softens as the fruit ripens, becoming chewy (like dried goji berries) when fully ripened and dried.
|Immature and underripe jujubes have smooth skin which gradually wrinkles (like a dried date) once they fully ripen.
|Ripe jujubes taste sweet, although some varieties can combine sweet, tart, and tangy flavors. You’ll tell jujubes are underripe or immature if they are bland or sour.
|Jujubes have a sweet, fruity smell when ripe. So, if a jujube fruit smells nothing, it’s probably unripe.
Can I Eat Raw Jujube?
It is safe to eat raw jujubes. Unripe jujubes are delicacies in countries like India in Southeast Asia.
People add salt or chili flakes before eating the unripe jujube fruit in north and northeastern India. They also pickle the raw fruit or use it in making chutneys.
Cooking with Jujube
Jujubes find numerous culinary applications thanks to their unique flavor. Here’s how to prepare jujubes for cooking:
- Wash the jujubes well under running water and then pat them dry.
- Remove the pit by cutting the jujubes in half with a pairing knife.
- If making candied jujubes, prick the flesh using a fork to allow them to absorb water and sugar.
- If your recipe calls for fried jujubes, soak them in water for 24-36 hours to soften them.
You’ll find jujubes in numerous cuisines, from Chinese to Korean, Indian, Persian, and Croatian. For instance, fresh jujubes make juices, marmalades, and fruit brandy (rakija) in Croatia. This fruit is also featured in jams, salads, breakfast meals, and sauces in many regions.
Fully ripened jujubes make candies and desserts in Asian cuisines. They are made into glacé fruits, boiling in honey and sugar syrup like Persian dates. And dried jujubes (red dates) replace raisins in desserts, jams, and compotes.
In Vietnam, jujubes are smoked before eating and are referred to as ‘black jujubes.’ The fruit is also fermented to make alcoholic syrup in Italy and beer in Australia.
Here are sweet and savory dishes featuring jujubes:
Jujube Tarragon Chicken: This savory chicken dish has dried jujube toppings, which add a lovely caramelized flavor. It pairs well with saffron rice and steamed asparagus.
Jujube Butter Oatmeal Bars: A tasty dessert, these oatmeal bars feature fresh jujube fruit simmered with apple cider. Then the fruit batter is sandwiched between pecan oatmeal bar cookies, making a delightful treat.
Chinese Jujube Date Sticky Rice Cake: A traditional Chinese meal, this tasty sticky rice cake is a staple in New Year celebrations. The jujube date (dried jujube) gives it a sweet, roasted aroma, flavor, and sticky consistency.
Jujube Ginger Tea: Whatever the time or situation, this jujube tea can be your go-to energizer. To prepare this energy-packed drink, you only need water, jujubes, ginger, and honey (black sugar).
How to Store Jujube
Depending on a few factors, you can store jujubes at room temperature or in the fridge. Ripe jujubes can stay fresh for 3 to 5 days without refrigeration. And keeping them in the refrigerator (in an airtight container) extends their freshness for 2 to 4 weeks.
Alternatively, candy your jujubes and keep them in airtight jars for up to three months.
Dried fruit lasts longer than fresh jujube. You can keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 12 months.
Nutritional Benefits of Jujubes
Jujubes are nutrient-packed fruits; hence, they make it to the list of superfruits. In addition, the bioactive compounds in jujubes are responsible for the fruit’s medicinal value.
Jujubes contain various healthy elements, including vitamin C, dietary fiber, flavonoids, amino acids, potassium, polysaccharides, and more!
Due to their rich nutrient composition, jujubes are known to have many health benefits. For example, vitamin C in jujubes is an antioxidant that fights free radicals, preventing and delaying cell damage. Hence, eating jujubes is believed to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Polysaccharides and amino acids are energy providers, helping the body remain active and energized even during sickness.
Since jujubes are an excellent source of dietary fiber, they help improve digestion and relieve gastrointestinal problems like constipation. Some studies have shown that jujube extract can protect the stomach lining from the effects of ulcers.
In traditional Chinese medicine, jujubes are known to improve sleep and decrease anxiety, as they contain sedative properties. It’s also believed that the fruits have neuroprotection abilities, helping prevent memory loss.
Where to Purchase Jujubes
You may only find jujubes at your local grocery store if the fruit is cultivated in your region. But you’ll come across the dried fruit all year round at farmers’ markets or Asian and Indian markets. Well-stocked health food stores and online retailers like Amazon also carry the fruit.
In most locations, you can purchase fresh jujubes during their peak in late summer through fall. If you’re within the USDA zones 5 to 10, you can even plant them in your backyard! Find jujube tree seedlings from vendors for a consistent supply of these nutritious fruits.