(Ziziphus sp. – Family Rhamnaceae)
Jujube, Chinese date, Chinese jujube, Chinese apple, jujula
June plum (Caribbean), bec/bor/ber (India), jujube (French), Jujube/indische Brustbeere (German), giuggiola (Italian), jujuba (Portuguese), jødetorn (Danish), bröstbärsträd/jujub (Swedish), kiinanjujuba/intiaanijujuba (Finnish), yuyuba (Russian), jujuba/chinski daktyl (Polish), jujub/cicimak (Serbo-Croat), jujuba (Romanian), hinap (Bulgarian), zhizhifon (Greek), hünnap (Turkish), medara (Malay), zao (Chinese), natsume (Japanese)
Jujube is the name commonly given to the fruits of various small spiny trees in the genus Ziziphus. The most important is Z. jujuba, which grows in mild to temperate dry areas in both hemispheres.
Since it has been known in China since antiquity, it is often referred to as the Chinese date. It is not known if it originated there or in Syria, but it has been cultivated in China for over 4,000 years and almost as long in Japan, Afghanistan, Iran, and west to the Mediterranean region. They are now grown extensively in Asia, Southern Europe, North America, and Australia.
Jujubes are a fruit of real importance in Asia, but little is known about it in the West. The French or Italian jujube is another related yellow variety found in Mediterranean Europe. The Indian jujube (Z. mauritiana) has adapted to warmer climates and grows in India only for commercial purposes. However, the flavour is not as good as other jujubes.
Another species, Z. lotus, is even less flavourful and is only mentioned because it is sometimes thought to be the “lotus” fruit to which Homer referred when telling of the “lotus-eaters” on the Island of Djerba. This simply cannot be as one only has to taste it in order to dismiss that thought. Those referred to in Homer were likely the fruit of the carob tree.
Generally, jujubes are small, egg-sized, and greenish-brown. Most fruits are a deep brown when fully ripe.
They can be purchased while still firm, but orangey-red with just a hint of brown, and left at room temperature for a day or two to ripen.
They have a crisp pearly-white flesh that encloses a single stone. The sweet flavour and texture is like that of an unripe pear, but with a slight hint of turpentine!
Jujubes can then be eaten raw, stewed in orange juice, or made into jams.
They have not gained popularity commercially because they do not ripen when packed green, nor do they ripen simultaneously.
It is noted that the jujubes from China are far more superior than those of other regions and are often stewed with rice or millet or used in the making of breads.
In the candied form, the long, pointed seeds and caramel-like texture resembles dried dates, thus its nickname.
One early traveller recounted his experience in meeting this form of the fruit for the first time. Knowing it was not a date, he could not account for the scratches he saw on the surface. He later found out that they were made by scoring knives used by the Chinese to slash the tough skins before stewing them in sugar or honey syrup. It is also noted that he favoured the honeyed ones over the sugared variety.
The juice of the jujube has long been used in making lozenges to alleviate chest complaints, but the word “jujube” has since acquired another meaning – that of a confection. Law’s Grocers’ Manual of c.1895 explained that jujubes used as a confection, or medicated lozenge, were made with Arabic gums and not with the true jujube fruits.