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So jujubes vary in size from small to large fruits, averaging 2 to 4 centimeters in diameter, and have a round to oval shape. The skin is smooth, firm, and semi-thin, ripening from green to brown-red with maturity. Underneath the surface, the white-green flesh is crisp, dry, and lightly grainy, similar in consistency to an apple, and encases two small brown seeds within a hard stone. When fresh, So jujubes have a sweet and mildly fruity flavor with subtly tart undertones. The fruits can also be dried, developing a wrinkled exterior, and the flesh transforms into a sticky texture with a concentrated, sugary-sweet taste similar to a date.
So jujubes are available in the late summer through fall.
So jujubes, botanically classified as Ziziphus jujuba, are drupes belonging to the Rhamnaceae or buckthorn family. The variety is categorized as a contorted jujube cultivar, which describes the irregular growth pattern of the tree. The branches from the tree form in different directions at each node, creating a weeping, angular, and zig-zagged appearance. So jujube trees are considered to be a specialty variety favored by home gardeners as an ornamental for its unique appearance, dwarf nature, drought tolerance. The fruits are also valued for their versatility and sweet, subtly tart flavor. So jujubes are not a commercially grown variety and are a novel cultivar sold in small quantities through local markets in Asia and the United States for both fresh and dried use.
So jujubes are an excellent source of fiber, which helps stimulate the digestive tract, and is a significant source of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that strengthens the immune system and contributes anti-inflammatory properties. The fruits also contain some potassium to regulate fluid levels in the body and provide smaller amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. In traditional Chinese medicine, jujubes are used as a healing ingredient, primarily in teas, to soothe sore throats and reduce symptoms associated with stress.
So jujubes are best suited for both raw and cooked applications, such as simmering. When fresh, the crisp, apple-like flesh is primarily consumed straight, out-of-hand, and both the skin and flesh can be eaten with the seeds discarded. So jujubes are also popularly dried or made into a paste and used in place of dates in cakes, candies, and other baked goods. Dried versions of the fruit have a sweeter flavor and are often served as a snack with coffee in China. They are also steeped in hot water with ginger and honey to make a tea. In addition to drying, So jujubes can be cooked in soups, simmered into a syrup, or used to flavor butter, jams, and various beverages. So jujubes pair well with nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, honey, sugar, soft cheeses, chocolate, and meats such as pork, beef, and poultry. Whole So jujubes can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 weeks when fresh. Dried jujubes will keep 6 to 12 months when stored in a cool, dry place.
There are more than four hundred varieties of jujubes in the world, with the majority of cultivars being found in China. The sweet fruits are also known as Chinese dates, Red dates, Tsao, and Korean dates, and have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes in China for thousands of years. In China, it is common to see jujube trees in public parks, lining city streets, contained on balconies, and being grown in backyards. Though the fruits are considered somewhat common, jujubes, including So jujubes, have a sweet taste that is popularly used to flavor mooncakes during the mid-autumn festival. This annual celebration is held during the full moon, also known as the Moon or Mooncake festival, and was originally created to honor the moon and the legends associated with it. The festival is also regarded to be the second most important celebration of the year, falling just behind Chinese New Year. During the festival, families gather together for elaborate dinners and exchange mooncakes between relatives and friends as a sign of goodwill. Mooncakes are round, dense baked goods that can be filled with a variety of both sweet and savory ingredients. The small cakes can range from inexpensive to elaborately designed as a high-end purchase, and jujubes create a creamy, dark red paste that is frequently used as a sweet, subtly sour, and smoky filling.
Jujubes are believed to be native to China, where the drupes have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years. The fruits were later transported into the rest of Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe through extensive trade routes and migrating peoples. In 1908, agricultural explorer Frank Meyers, in partnership with the USDA, visited China and gathered 67 samples jujube varieties, including So jujubes. All 67 varieties were first planted at the Plant Introduction Station in Chico, California, and eventually were distributed among other USDA stations, including locations in Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Georgia. Today So jujubes have remained one of the more obscure varieties from Meyer’s collection and can be found through specialty growers in warm regions of the United States, especially in California. The trees are also still grown in home gardens across Asia.