Why Do Prunes Make You Poop?

nata_vkusidey/iStock via Getty Images
nata_vkusidey/iStock via Getty Images

Elsewhere in the world, prunes occupy the head of the table. Here in America, they’re often the butt of jokes. The shiny, sweet dried fruits are both exploited and ridiculed for their laxative properties. But do they really make you poop?

Conventional wisdom and scores of older folks insist that eating prunes will hasten the excretory process. Meanwhile, the European Union says they won’t. In a 2010 ruling, the European Food Safety Authority decreed that it was dishonest to sell prunes as laxatives [PDF]. The ruling, which cited “insufficient evidence” of prunes’ poop-moving properties, was met with incredulity and derision.

One miffed Parliamentarian challenged the ruling. “Most of our constituents do not require a scientific test,” Sir Graham Watson said. Watson then challenged the commissioner of health and consumer policy to a prune-eating contest, inviting the man to “see for himself.”

There actually is a good amount of scientific evidence to prove the power of prunes. On his Compound Chemistry blog, chemist Andy Brunning noted that studies in 2008 and 2011 concluded that prunes do indeed make effective laxatives.

Like many fruits, prunes are high in insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to food in the process of digestion while also helping it pass through the system faster. Prunes also contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that's used to sweeten things like chewing gum. It appears naturally in prunes, though it's often used as an artificial sweetener in "sugar free" chewing gum. Sorbitol is a laxative, which is why you should be mindful of how much sugar-free gum you chew.

The sorbitol isn’t working alone though, Brunning says. Prunes are naturally laced with neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids—the same chemicals that can help send you to the bathroom after finishing your morning coffee.

So yes, prunes can ease the passage of certain personal parcels. But they’re also delicious—a fact often overshadowed by their functionality. That’s why, in 2000, the prune lobby launched a massive rebranding effort. Hit up the dried-fruit section of your supermarket and you will likely find “dried plums" instead of prunes.

“Ninety percent of consumers told us that they'd be more likely to enjoy the fruit if it were called a dried plum instead of a prune,” the newly renamed California Dried Plum Board said in a press release titled “You Won’t Have Prunes to Kick Around Anymore.”

Under any name, "dried plums" still have the power to move you—no matter what the European Union says.

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Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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Are Halloween Pumpkins Edible?

Diane Helentjaris, Unsplash
Diane Helentjaris, Unsplash

When people visit their local family-owned pumpkin patch around Halloween, they aren’t usually looking for dinner. The majority of the nearly 2 billion pounds of pumpkins cultivated in the U.S. each year are carved up instead of eaten, making the squash a unique part of the agriculture industry. For people who prefer seasonal recipes to decorations, that may raise a few questions: Are the pumpkins sold for jack-o’-lanterns different from pumpkins sold as food? And are Halloween pumpkins any good to eat?

The pumpkins available at farms and outside supermarkets during October are what most people know, but that’s just one type of pumpkin. Howden pumpkins are the most common decorative pumpkin variety. They’ve been bred specifically for carving into jack-o’-lanterns, with a symmetrical round shape, deep orange color, and sturdy stem that acts as a handle. Shoppers looking for the perfect carving pumpkin have other options as well: the Racer, Magic Wand, Zeus, Hobbit, Gold Rush, and Connecticut field pumpkin varieties are all meant to be displayed on porch steps for Halloween.

Because they’re bred to be decoration first, carving pumpkins don’t taste very good. They have walls that are thin enough to poke a cheap knife through and a texture that’s unappealing compared to the squashes consumers are used to eating. “Uncut carving pumpkins are safe to eat; however, it's not the best type to use for cooking,” Daria McKelvey, a supervisor for the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden, tells Mental Floss. “Carving pumpkins are grown for their large size, not the flavor. Their flesh can be bland and the fibers are very stringy.”

To get the best-tasting pumpkins possible this autumn, you’re better off avoiding the seasonal supermarket displays. Many pumpkin varieties are bred especially for cooking and eating. These include Sugar Pie, Kabocha, Jack-Be-Little, Ghost Rider, Hubbard, Jarrahdale, Baby Pam, and Cinderella pumpkins. You can shop for these varieties by name at local farms or in the produce section of your grocery store. They should be easy to tell apart from the carving pumpkins available for Halloween: Unlike decorative pumpkins, cooking pumpkins are small and dense. This is part of the reason they taste better. McKelvey says. “[Cooking pumpkins] are smaller, sweeter, have a thicker rind (meatier), and have less fibers, making them easier to cook with—but not so good for carving.” These pumpkins can be stuffed, blended into soup, or simply roasted.

If you do want to get some culinary use out of your carving pumpkins this Halloween, set aside the seeds when scooping out the guts. Roasted with seasonings and olive oil, seeds (or pepitas) from different pumpkin varieties become a tasty and nutritious snack. Another option is to turn the flesh of your Halloween pumpkin into purée. Adding sugar and spices and baking it into a dessert can do a lot to mask the fruit’s underwhelming flavor and consistency.

Whatever you do, make sure your pumpkin isn’t carved up already when you decide to cook with it. There are many ways to recycle your jack-o’-lanterns, but turning them into pie isn’t one of them. "If one does plan on cooking with a carving pumpkin, it should be intact,” McKelvey says. “Never use one that's been carved into a jack-o'-lantern, otherwise you could be dealing with bacteria, dirt and dust, and other little critters.”