Sunday, September 17th 2023

It's Ciruela Season, but What Makes Mexican Plums So Special?

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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It's Ciruela Season, but What Makes Mexican Plums So Special?

It’s ciruela season in Mexico, and all the delicious jams and jellies that come with it. But what are Mexican ciruelas? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than you’d expect.

Ciruela is the Spanish word for “plum”, applied to the fruit by Spanish colonists. They are small fruits with a thin, smooth, edible skin and a large stone–larger than the stones of typical North-American plums. The pulp around the stone is quite acidic when the fruit is unripe but fruity, with mango and cashew flavors when it ripens. (The Mexican ciruela is related to both of these foods.)

Taxonomically, ciruelas are classified as Spondias purpurea, in the Anacardiaceae family, more commonly referred to as the cashew or sumac family. The species is native to North, Central, and South America, which explains the colonists’ confusion. Mexican plums aren’t really plums. Well, some are and others aren’t. That’s right. There are two different kinds of Mexican plums. The first is a plum. The second isn’t.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to differentiate between the two plums by calling them the northern Mexican plum and the southern Mexican plum. These are my distinctions, but, if you hear me out, I think you’ll see why I’m classifying them that way.


The Northern Mexican Plum

It's Ciruela Season, but What Makes Mexican Plums So Special?

The northern Mexican plum is an actual plum, a wild plum which is technically part of the rose family. Its scientific name is Prunus mexicana, and it grows from the Mexican state of Coahuilla to Alabama—even Georgia—and as far north as Minnesota and South Dakota, though it’s most commonly found in the American southwest.

They’re commonly found at the edges of forests or in open clearings. It’s a widely cultivated species. On the west coast of the United States, it’s widely used in landscaping for its fragrant pinkish-white blossoms, small edible fruit, drought-resistant nature, and pH adaptability.

Mexican plum trees are also crucial to feeding birds and other local wildlife, so if you’re a fan of northern Mexican plums, you should consider picking them early on. The fruits are small and similar in shape to a cherry.

They start off tart and inedible, but they get rather sweet and delicious when they’re ripe—with a unique flavor. You could eat them raw, but most people end up making jelly, jams, and preserves. Be sure to test the fruit raw, however, so you know when they’re ready before you make jam!

*For recipes on how to make Mexican plum jam and jelly, click here.


Southern Ciruelas

It's Ciruela Season, but What Makes Mexican Plums So Special?

When I think of Mexican plums, I think of southern ciruelas. We have a tree in our backyard, and it’s in season now, yay! When they’re ripe, they’re very juicy and sweet.

These aren’t actually plums—in fact, they’re related to the mango—but when the Spanish conquerors arrived, they used words they had to describe the nature they saw around them and now we’re stuck calling them “ciruelas”. Their scientific name is Spondias purpurea.

For the purpose of this article, I’ve decided to call this fruit “southern Mexican plums”. They grow from El Bajío in Central Mexico all the way to northern Colombia and eastern Venezuela.

In Mexico, Mexican plums are mainly found on the Pacific slope and the southern half of the Mexican Republic in the states of:

  • Sonora
  • Sinaloa
  • Nayarit
  • Colima
  • Jalisco
  • Michoacán
  • Guerrero
  • Oaxaca
  • Chiapas
  • San Luis Potosí
  • Estado de Mexico
  • Morelos
  • Puebla
  • Veracruz
  • Tabasco
  • Campeche Quintana Roo
  • Yucatan

It’s also distributed throughout most of Central America.

Names of the Southern Mexican Plum in Other Countries

It's Ciruela Season, but What Makes Mexican Plums So Special?

  • El Salvador – Jocote Corona and Jocote de Verano
  • In eastern Venezuela – jobito, yoyomo, jobo or joba ciruela, the common one is known simply as ciruela.
  • The eastern part of Bolivia, properly Puerto Suárez and Puerto Quijarro – Suka.
  • The Coastal region of Ecuador – ciruela
  • The eastern Bolivian region of Roboré – ciruela (though some spell it “cirgüela”)
  • The Ibarra canton in Ecuador – called ovo and hobo.
  • In Costa Rica – jocotes
  • Guatemala – jocotes
  • El Salvador – jocotes
  • Nicaragua – jocotes
  • In Honduras – ciruela, jocote, tronadora, and cirgüela.
  • In Mexico – ciruela (and yoyomo in parts of Sonora and Sinaloa.)
  • In Panama – ciruela
  • In the Colombian Caribbean – ciruela.
  • In the Colombian Chirquí area – jobito.
  • Costa Rica – jocote. *Other names for the fruit abound. In addition to the names above, they are sometimes called siniguelas, mombin, makok, hog's plum, and spanish plum.

Facts about Southern Ciruelas

It's Ciruela Season, but What Makes Mexican Plums So Special?

  • The southern ciruela belongs to the mango family.
  • It starts off green and then ripens to a yellow or bright red.
  • Inside, the seed takes up almost 70% of the fruit.
  • The ciruela is high in many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B, and C
  • It’s also high in calcium and phosphorus.
  • They’re best known for their high levels of vitamin C and Iron, which provide energy, combat anemia, boost immune function, and reduce fatigue.
Why Is Iron Important?

Iron is important to the body because it assists in many vital functions like transferring oxygen from the lungs to the other soft tissues. It also plays a role in metabolism.

Usually, our bodies create heme iron (which forms a part of the hemoglobin in our blood) from proteins we consume in meat products. However, we can also create very important non-heme iron from only a few plant-based sources, and one of these is ciruelas.

The non-heme iron has a slightly different role. It’s mostly used for iron storage, and not readily available for oxygen transportation. Both heme and non-heme iron are essential elements for blood production, so much so that 70% of your body’s iron is found in your muscle cells and red blood cells. This is important to transporting oxygen in the body to combat fatigue, anemia and arrhythmia. Ciruela is rich in iron, which aids in boosting your immunity. Due to ciruela’s high levels of vitamin C, when consumed together with iron, it’s been shown to transport non-heme iron and store it in a form that is more easily absorbed in the body, thereby assisting the body with increased absorption and utilization of non-heme iron.

What Other Health Benefits Do Ciruelas Have

Indigenous communities have used ciruela for treating a plethora of ailments. The decoction (heating or boiling a substance in order to extract its essence) of the bark is used to treat anemia, gastrointestinal conditions (amebiasis, diarrhea, dysentery, stomach ache, gastritis) fever, renal lithiasis, colds, conjunctivitis, jaundice, anemia, and kidney pain. The decoction of the fruit is used to treat kidney diseases. Topically it is used in the treatment of stubborn ulcers, inflamed gums, sarcopteosis, and scabies. The root is used topically for infections, rashes, and headaches.


It's Ciruela Season, but What Makes Mexican Plums So Special?

Ciruelas are just one more reason why Mexican produce—and subsequently Mexican cuisine—is so special and so unique. I recommend trying a ciruela jam from your local market—and while you’re there, check out all the other Mexican fruits and vegetables.

*To see our guide to Mexican fruits, [click here](https://www.expatinsurance.com/articles/a-guide-to-mexican-fruits).

*To see our guide to Mexican vegetables, [click here](https://www.expatinsurance.com/articles/guide-to-mexican-vegetables).

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