The different types
of prunes

You’ll often hear people say that a prune is just a prune! It’s true that the different types of prune all look fairly similar. You can’t judge this exceptional fruit merely by grade (the number of fruits per 500g) – there’s a lot more to it than that.

Prunes are made from Ente plums, the only variety of plum with the physical and flavour qualities required to make a truly high-quality prune.
They are available in a number of different grades, or sizes.

The Agen prune

When you hear the word Agen, you intuitively think that all it takes is for the plums to be harvested in a specific area (Agen).
While this is partly true, it is certainly not all. We’ll tell you all about it.

Agen prunes are protected by an IGP.

An IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) is a European label of recognition, created in 1992, to combat fraud and protect the original product awarded the label.

So where is Agen, exactly?

Let’s look it up on the map. Fruit with the “Agen Prune” label is produced in the strict geographical area set out for Agen prunes, which includes the entire Lot-et-Garonne department (except for the Houeillès canton), as well as the neighbouring cantons in the Gironde, the Dordogne, the Lot, the Tarn-et-Garonne and the Gers.

The orchards, drying facilities and processing and packing plants must all be located in this area. If you want to sell prunes as “Agen Prunes”, every step of the process (from the orchard to the final packing) must be completed within the area set out by the IGP. And of course, this is highly controlled, ensuring that you know exactly where your Agen prunes have come from.

A careful process set out in an extremely strict set of technical specifications.
From the producer to the processor, the conditions required to bear the label are strict, precise and extensively checked. For the Agen Prune IGP, the production of the prunes must follow all of the instructions set out in the specifications. And only prunes made according to this procedure can be labelled “Agen Prunes”. So it’s vital to apply all of the rules if you want to benefit from this label.
That’s not all: every company along the line (plum farmer, dryer and processor) must be approved and checked by QUALISUD, a certifying organisation.

Here are a few of the technical steps they need to follow.
If we still need to convince you that this is a serious process, here is a quick breakdown of the main steps that make the Agen prune the unique product you enjoy today.

Trees must be pruned every year. The pruner must bear in mind several key principles, such as maintaining the symmetrical pyramid shape, keeping a low base and keeping the framework branches* clear to ensure that air and light can penetrate deep inside the tree.

The fruit must be harvested when fully ripe, and this is done in several passes. Plums harvested before they ripen properly become dry, low-quality prunes. The farmer must therefore ensure that he or she picks the plums at exactly the right moment. A date is published every year, announcing the best date to start the harvest.
However, the fruit doesn’t all ripen at once; it varies from tree to tree. To ensure that the fruit they pick are naturally sweet, the farmer must regularly check the Brix level** of a few of their plums, using a refractometer***, so they can track the ripening of the fruit across their orchards and start the harvest at the right time. The trees are shaken lightly, then the plums which fall are collected and a sample of 10 plums are tested using the refractometer.

The drying rate.
The residual humidity must not exceed 23%, with the exception of the “mi-cuit” Agen prunes, which are produced by halting the drying process when the fruits drop to a water content of no more than 35 %.

*Framework branches: large branches forking off from the trunk of the plum tree
**Brix level: the quantity of natural sugar contained in the plum
***Refractometer: In farming, refractometers are regularly used to determine the sugar content of fruit juices, jams etc. For example: 20°Brix = 20% sugar.

Standard organic prunes

“Mi-cuit” prunes

These are prunes for which the drying process is halted at the final rehydration level for normal prunes, which is a water content of 35%. The fruit is then packed directly into a pasteurised container and sold. It does not undergo rehydration. These prunes make up a tiny proportion of the prunes sold (around 3% of the market). They are available all year round, but some producers release them as “new harvest” or “early” prunes, between October and December.
One variation on this method is to freeze the prunes before pasteurising them, instead of packing them immediately. This prolongs the shelf life of the fruit, and provides greater flexibility when marketing the prunes.

Over-humidified prunes

These are standard prunes, but the rehydration process is deliberately extended. By going from 35 % to 40 %, or even higher, you get a very rich, flavoursome and soft fruit. These products are sometimes flavoured, with vanilla for example.