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When you ask folks to name a stone fruit, they’re apt to say peaches, cherries or even apricots. Sometimes overlooked for flashier fare, the plum is a delectable, low-calorie choice that’s packed with nutritious value. Sometimes called a gage, the plum boasts more than 2,000 varieties. Here in the U.S., fruit connoisseurs can choose from more than 100 plum types.

Plums are classified into six general categories – Japanese, American, Damson, Ornamental, Wild and European/Garden. Although usually round, plums can also be oval or even heart shaped. These delectable beauties come in a spectrum of colors including red, purple, blue-black, yellow and even green.

While the color may attract you to pick up a plum, it’s the nutritional value that will make you pluck another. Fresh plums as well as their dried brethren, known previously as prunes, have been studied at length to evaluate their health benefits. As it turns out, plums are packed with phenols which function as powerful antioxidants. Beyond neutralizing destructive cell-impacting radicals, plums are a superior source of vitamin C which facilitates iron absorption. But the benefits don’t end there. In a study of 110,000 men and women, researchers found that eating vitamin-packed fruits, including plums, may help reduce the risk of degenerative eye diseases. Of course, plums and prunes are known for their, ahem, digestive benefits, too.

If you’re not convinced to pick plums for your next fruit indulgence, consider all the ways it can be prepared and eaten. Of course, eating them raw is a great way to go. Just be sure to have them at room temperature to get maximum juiciness and sweetness. Try them in unexpected ways such as topping a pizza along with goat cheese or poached in red wine. Certainly, this month’s recipe for Individual Plum Tarts is a great way to make this fruit shine as a dessert.

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