Well, depending on who you ask, the fruit is an ancient holy food, a traditional medicinal plant or fodder for a popular candy.
Obviously, there’s more to this mysterious snack than meets the eye – and with so many different types of jujubes to choose from, there’s any number of ways to interpret their meaning.
Jujubes may not be so well known in modern culture, but at over 11,000 years old, they were certainly more familiar to our ancestors.
In fact, jujubes are one of the longest cultivated fruits, first being intentionally grown all the way back in 9000 BC. So it’s no wonder they’ve acquired so many meanings and uses over the years.
The plant itself is pretty straight forward: Originating somewhere between the Middle East, northern India and southern China, jujubes grow on a small shrubby tree, which produces small yellow flowers that eventually give way to the jujube fruit.
When they sprout, the fruits start out bright green, but as they mature to their full size and shape – roughly that of a plum – they take on a bluish-black hue, and finally wind up wrinkled, resembling a small date with skin that shrinks around the large kernel inside.
Its prominence in the Middle East put it on the same page as other revered ancient fruits, such as figs, with the jujube earning a place in the sacred Quran. Elsewhere, the fruit is treated a bit more lightheartedly, including in Vietnam and China, where it’s typically used as the base of a popular candy.
And in India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, jujubes are eaten both fresh and dried, and used to make anything from tea to specialized spices. The fruit even shows up in ancient Chinese and Korean medicinal recipes, with purported anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-stress powers. Whew!
Even more impressive than the jujube’s long list of historical uses is its long list of modern-day cultivars. There are currently over 40 varieties of the ancient fruit grown all over the world.
Some of the most popular types of jujubes include:
This type of jujube is particularly noted for its plump – rather than plum-like – shape. And that round exterior is filled with flavor, with Chico jujubes famous for their sweet juice, and rich and tangy taste.
As their name may indicate, contorted jujubes are one of the most uniquely shaped varieties of the fruit, with their tree’s branches dancing in twisted contortions and the fruit itself taking on an especially oblong form.
On the inside, these contorted snacks are all jujube: Sweet and tangy, with a crunchy firm texture when ripe, along with a deep red skin.
Sure, it sounds like a Star Wars character, but what’s really otherworldly about this type of jujube is its taste.
GA 866 was specifically engineered for its size, with the fruit only maturing to about two inches long. Still, it tastes every bit the sweet, tangy apple bite as its more natural jujube cousins.
Like its name may suggest, these types of jujubes are particularly sweet – and especially juicy.
But all that sugary punch is packed into one of the smallest jujubes out there – outside of the GA 866, that is.
These types of jujubes are on the opposite side of the size spectrum, representing one of the largest varieties of the fruit.
Lang jujubes sport the same reddish-brown skin as most of their compatriots, but rock a unique pear shape instead of the usual elongated form. Plus, Lang jujubes are notably drier – that is, less juicy – than many other cultivars.
This Chinese-developed cultivar has it all: It’s large, round, and reddish-brown but a perfect crisp white on the inside.
Li jujubes are also noted for their sweet crunch when fresh, and their particular date-like chew when dried.
Another China-developed varietal, these types of jujubes are the largest of all – and perhaps the most popular type of jujube.
Their size makes them a natural for those looking to get as much jujube goodness out of one fruit as possible. And their particularly sweet and tangy taste hits all the right marks for someone looking for that jujube je ne sais qua.
Another jujube variety that’s – you guessed it! – known for its sweetness.
These cultivars are smaller and rounder than most, packing a particularly sugary bite that overrides most of the fruit’s natural tartness. When ripe, they’re especially crunchy, making them a popular fresh treat in India and Eastern Europe.
But no matter how you figure out the mystery of the jujube fruit, you’ll end up with something seriously delicious.