The Origin of Raisins and Prunes: A Linguistic Journey

Noah Silverbrook

Updated Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at 8:28 AM CDT

The Origin of Raisins and Prunes: A Linguistic Journey

The Influence of English Royalty and French Peasants

The naming convention for raisins and prunes has an intriguing history that can be traced back to the influence of English royals and French peasants. Following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, French-speaking nobility ruled over the land, introducing their own language and customs. As a result, their words for food became associated with dried fruits and vegetables, giving rise to the French word "raisin" for dried grapes and "prune" for dried plums.

Language Divide and Food Terminology

Interestingly, the language divide between the ruling French nobility and the English peasants led to a distinction in food terminology. While the French words became associated with dried versions, the Anglo-Saxon words used by the conquered peasants remained connected to live animals and fresh fruits and vegetables. This linguistic divide can also be observed in other examples, such as "cow" and "beef," "pig" and "porc," and "chicken" and "poulet."

The Impact of Language on Dehydrated Fruits

The different names for dehydrated fruits, like raisins and prunes, can be attributed to the fact that different languages were spoken by those growing the fruits and those involved in their production or consumption. This linguistic influence has resulted in the enduring distinction between raisins and prunes, even though they are both products of the drying process.

Rebranding Efforts and Prune Juice

In more recent times, the American plum growers association made efforts to rebrand prunes as dried plums. This initiative aimed to overcome the negative association of prunes with elderly people and their digestive health. Similarly, prune juice, often associated with regulating b**** movements, saw an unsuccessful attempt to rename it "dried plum juice." However, it's important to note that prune juice is not made by juicing dried plums, but by steeping them in water and then removing the water.

Prunes vs. Plum Trees

Contrary to popular belief, prunes are not a separate fruit from plums. Instead, prunes are a specific type of plum that is particularly suitable for drying. Not all plums can be turned into prunes, as the drying process requires specific characteristics. Interestingly, the confusion arises from the fact that plum trees that produce plums suitable for drying are sometimes referred to as "prune trees," despite the fruits being plums. Hence, the term "prune orchard" is used to describe an orchard where plums suitable for drying are grown.

The Dehydration Process and Shelf Life

The process of making prunes involves dehydrating plums, which removes the water content and concentrates the flavor. This dehydration process also results in prunes having a higher sugar content compared to fresh plums. Similarly, raisins are made by drying grapes, removing the water content and intensifying the natural sugars. The drying process for grapes and plums, transforming them into raisins and prunes, respectively, has been practiced for centuries as a way to preserve these fruits. Both raisins and prunes have a longer shelf life compared to their fresh counterparts.

Unique Names and Cultural Factors

While raisins and prunes have distinct names for their dehydrated forms, other fruits, such as apricots, apples, or mangoes, do not have specific names that differ from their original names. This lack of distinct terminology may be attributed to historical factors or cultural preferences that did not result in the development of unique terms for these dehydrated fruits.

The origin of the names "raisin" and "prune" can be traced back to the influence of English royals and French peasants. The linguistic divide between the ruling French nobility and the English peasants played a significant role in the distinction between these dried fruits. Despite efforts to rebrand prunes as dried plums, the names raisins and prunes have become widely accepted in the English language. The dehydration process used to make raisins and prunes has been practiced for centuries, resulting in longer shelf lives and concentrated flavors. While raisins and prunes have distinct names, other dehydrated fruits do not have specific terms that differ from their fresh counterparts.

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