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Rukam grow to be about one inch in diameter with a light green skin with a red blush that turns purple, to a dark red or rust color when ripe. Rukam have a greenish-yellow pulp that encases a long flat seed resembling an olive pit. The flavor can range from astringent to sweet depending on maturity, but Indian plums are notably juicy. Rukam continues to ripen once picked. The immature fruits are hard and crisp, with a texture similar to an apple. As the fruit matures, the taste sweetens and the texture softens. Dried Rukam are the sweetest and have a wrinkled skin similar to that of a date or prune.
Rukam are available in the summer months.
Typically cultivated in southeast and eastern Asia Rukam is also known as Indian plum, Indian cherry, Runeala plum, or Coffee plum. Over 90 different varieties are cultivated in India, with slight differences in color, size and sweetness. Rukam is a member of the Ziziphus genus and are related to the Chinese jujube. Though they carry the name “plum” they are not related to and do not resemble fruits of the Prunus genus.
Rukam are eaten fresh, out-of-hand or processed. Under-ripe fruits are eaten with a sprinkle of salt or sugar and sometimes chili powder. To remove the pit within the plum, slice sections of the fruit away from the pit as you would a mango. More mature, softer fruit will be easier to work with. Indian plums can be used to flavor sweet liquor or dried and added to warm or cold cereals. Mash ripe fruits to make Rukam butter or boil Rukam, deseed, add clove, cinnamon and sugar, and blend to make a sauce. The small fruits will keep up to two weeks at room temperature and refrigerated can keep up to 7 weeks. Rukam can be frozen either whole or mashed into a pulp.
Rukam are not well known outside of India. Archaeological evidence shows that Indian plums were an important food source in Pakistan 8,000 years ago. They are grown for commercial use in the drier parts of India and cultivated in Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Africa.