Plum Sauce: The Fruity Dipping Sauce

Plum sauce history

Plum sauce is a Chinese condiment originally made from a stone fruit referred to as the Chinese plum. This is where it gets tricky as there are multiple plum species called Chinese plums. Prunus mume, Prunus salicina and Eriobotrya japonica are all grown throughout Asia and are sometimes also called Japanese plums. Most plum sauce is made with the first two varieties: Prunus mume and Prunus salicina.

Plums have a long history in Chinese cuisine, largely because the Chinese were the first to cultivate them. The varieties mentioned above are believed to be native to China and are different from European plums.

Chinese plums first grew near the Yangtze River in southern China. According to some sources, plums became a part of Chinese cuisine at some point before the Qin Dynasty. The fruits are small, yellow and have a red blush. Because of the plum trees’ hardiness, crops tend to be very large but occur over a short period each year.

As a result of the large harvest, there have been many methods developed for preserving them. Using them to make plum sauce is likely one of those methods, along with others such as drying them and pickling them in vinegar. Sweeter applications like plum sauce are a natural fit for the Chinese plum because of the fruit’s naturally tart flavor. It is sometimes described as tasting like under-ripe apricots.

When it made its way to the US, plum sauce was called duck sauce because it was commonly served with duck. Plum sauce is still often confused with duck sauce in many parts of the US.

Some modern versions of plum sauce will include other fruit like pineapples and apricots.

Plum sauce flavor profile

The flavor of plum sauce is predominantly sweet with a strong sour note from the fruit. Many recipes include spices like star anise, ginger or five-spice powder to make it warm and aromatic. Some versions have chili peppers for mild heat.

Health Benefits

Most Chinese plum sauce is not a great source of any essential nutrients; however, the nutritional profiles of brands do vary. Some brands have long lists of beneficial compounds listed in the nutrition sections of their labels. The nutrients that you might get from plum sauce include:

  • Vitamins: Vitamins A, C, and various B vitamins may be found in some varieties of plum sauce.
  • Minerals: The minerals found in some plum sauces include iron, magnesium, and calcium.

The nutrients in plum sauce may help to prevent or relieve health problems like:

  • Osteoporosis: The minerals that you might find in plum sauce are beneficial for bone health. The calcium and magnesium that you might find in some versions of plum sauce may help to improve bone density.
  • Anemia: The body uses iron to make hemoglobin to transport oxygen. Insufficient iron intake can result in iron deficiency anemia, which has symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath. Plum sauce can contain iron that will help to treat the condition.

Health concerns

You won’t get any vitamins or minerals from most plum sauce. What you will get is a lot of sugar. Some versions will contain most of your recommended daily allowance of sugar in a single serving. Because of its sugar content, consuming a lot of plum sauce can cause you to gain weight and may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Plum sauce also tends to contain a lot of sodium, which can increase your blood pressure and put you at greater risk of stroke.

Common uses

The most popular way to use plum sauce is as a dipping sauce for deep-fried dishes like spring rolls and fried noodles. It is also a popular baste and marinade for duck.