Damson plums: a rich source of antioxidants

Riddet Institute research is exploring the bioactive compounds within Damson plums. This research aims to understand the relationship between such compounds and potential health benefits, and has generated some interesting preliminary results. Dr Ali Rashidinejad, who leads the project within the Institute, works with Māori agri-business and plum producer Foot Steps Limited from Karamu, Hastings. Foot Steps were awarded a development grant from the High-Value Nutrition ‘Ko Ngā Kai Whai Painga’ National Science Challenge to fund the research.

“We are interested to explore whether damson plums, as a potential high-value food, may have any health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value by decreasing the risk of chronic diseases,” says Shayne Walker, Director of Foot Steps Limited.

The research project is investigating the biochemical composition and functionality of compounds in Damson plums. The team has determined the nutrient content and antioxidant activity at different stages of plum ripening and harvest. They also mapped out regulatory considerations for exporting functional products based on Damson plums, in partnership with Smart Regulatory Solutions.

Dr Rashidinejad is happy to confirm the initial project findings and deliver good news to the industry partner, Foot Steps, who initiated and co-designed the project. “We have made excellent progress in a short time, and we are delighted with the preliminary results showing that Damson plums are a great source of some of the vital nutrients and antioxidants required for maintaining good health”, he says. “The project is now moving to a new phase to extract, identify, isolate and protect antioxidants from these special plums for the production of functional food products”, Dr Rashidinejad adds.

Damson plums are a type of plum with a deeper purple colour (more like blueberries). The properties of the plums are influenced by their growing environment, in this case, Hawke’s Bay, Aotearoa New Zealand. These plums have great potential to be considered as a high-value food, or as a food ingredient with validated health benefits.

Purple fruits (e.g., blackcurrants, blueberries, and plums) are already established as rich sources of anthocyanins, which have been linked to several health benefits (e.g. antidiabetic, anticancer and anti-inflammatory). Damson plums are considered a fruit with a high concentration of bioactive compounds, such as vitamins (A, C, and E). They also contain other compounds, which contribute to their antioxidant capacity, helping remove or neutralise free radicals that can cause cellular damage to humans.

“Foot Steps have bold and ambitious plans to explore the bioactive compounds of Damson plums as a sustainable and potentially health promoting food that might develop into a product of export quality, and showcase Mātauranga māori through the integration of our tikanga values. We also anticipate that examining plums will ultimately help inform consumers and support their food choices and perhaps create an industry,” says Mr Walker.

The next phase of the project is due to conclude in 2022 and has provided an exciting research project for a postgraduate food science student.

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