Jujube fruit is having a moment right now. After centuries of use in herbal medicine, the little red fruit is growing in popularity in the United States.
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Jujube has long been used in China and other parts of Asia as a remedy for insomnia, anxiety and more. But major scientific research on jujube’s effects has yet to materialize. Some small studies at the cellular level and in non-human models have shown some promise, but much more is yet to be understood about the health benefits of jujube.
“When products like jujube are used for certain purposes over hundreds of years, there’s often good reason for it,” says registered dietitian Sarah Thomsen Ferreira, RD, LD. “Foods tend to gain a reputation for a reason, so their historical use can be informative. Research data on Jujube in human health, however, is limited.”
What do we know about jujube? Thomsen Ferreira walks us through it.
What is jujube?
Not to be confused with those gummy little candies that stick to your teeth at the movie theater (they just happen to share a name), jujube is a red- or purple-colored fruit native to China. It’s also widely found in parts of Africa, as well as South Korea, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Sicily. It also goes by the names Chinese date, red date or Tsao.
Jujube fruit is shaped something like a small, wrinkly pear and has a taste and texture similar to an apple. And, like apples, there are hundreds of varieties of jujubes. They range in size: Some are as small as a cherry, while others are closer to the size of a plum. As for taste, that can vary, too — from sweet to tart and anywhere in between.
They can be eaten raw or dried. And while fresh jujubes aren’t readily available in most parts of the United States, dried jujubes can be found online. Dried versions can be used in recipes similar to other dehydrated fruits. They work well in jams, breads, dessert fillings and more. Or just mix them with nuts to add some chewy bits to your trail mix.
Is jujube healthy?
Jujube has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for anxiety and as a sleep aid, appetite suppressant and digestive aid.
Thomsen Ferreira explains what we know and what we have yet to learn about jujube’s benefits.
One thing is for sure: Jujube packs a punch in terms of its nutritional value. It’s been shown to be a good source of potassium. Three ounces of dried jujube is equivalent to 3 tablespoons of raisins. And it’s rich in vitamin C — similar to the amounts found in navel oranges and strawberries.
But most excitingly, Thomsen Ferreira says that jujube has been shown to be a major source of phenolic compounds.
“Phenolic compounds are chemical components in plant-based foods that can give them certain beneficial health effects,” she continues.
Three ounces of jujube are estimated to have between 275 and 541 milligrams of phenols. The next best source is cherries, with about 114 milligrams per 3 ounces.
“We tend to think of cherries as antioxidant superfoods, so to see such a high content of phenols in jujube is pretty significant,” Thomsen Ferreria says.
Some phenolic compounds have the potential to provide protection against:
- Brain and nervous system damage.
- Heart disease.
- Liver damage.
- Skin damage.
Having high phenolic content means that it would stand to reason that jujube could potentially provide these benefits or others. But that’s not a given. More research is needed to understand if its potential actually translates to benefits for human health.
What the research shows
The research on jujube is preliminary, and its effects haven’t been scientifically tested in people. Let’s see what some of the early research shows and what it may mean.
Cancer: One group of researchers tested jujube’s effects on human cervical and breast cancer cells. Their results suggest jujube may hold promise in preventing or treating cancer. It’s important to note these studies were conducted in isolated cancer cells (think: Petri dishes, not people).
Red blood cells: A preliminary study suggests jujube may have effects on preventing or treating anemia (low red blood cells).
Brain health: One research paper suggests jujube may have brain-boosting effects, including improving memory and learning potential.
Sleep: Among jujube’s top uses in traditional medicine practices is to improve sleep. The thinking is that some components in jujube may affect your body’s serotonin system. One study showed one of the major components of jujube increased sleep significantly in animal models.
Alternatives to jujube
When you get down to it, jujube may have some very positive health effects. But that doesn’t mean you need to load up on it right away.
For starters, jujube may be hard to find at your average grocery store or even specialty food store.
Dried jujube is relatively easy to find online, but it comes at a cost. One online retailer, for example, sells dried jujube for $9.99 for 8 ounces (before taxes and shipping costs). That’s twice as expensive as dried dates, apricots or figs from the same site. And it’s four times more expensive than dried bananas.
But if you can’t find jujube or don’t want to shell out for it, you’re still in luck.
“It comes down to the pros and the cons of nutritional benefits versus accessibility,” Thomsen Ferreira advises. “You can get a similar amount of vitamin C and potassium from other foods that are more readily available in certain areas than jujube.”
For similar vitamin content and texture, Thomsen Ferreira suggests these alternatives:
- Dried apricots.
- Dried papaya.
- Dehydrated cherries.
While its early results may be promising, there’s no hard proof that jujube is any more beneficial for your health than similar fruits. But it may be a fun alternative to your regular go-to’s if you’re looking to switch things up and have the budget for it.
One word of caution, though. Jujube may interfere with certain medications, including antiseizure medications and antidepressants. So talk with your healthcare provider if you use those medications and are looking to add jujube to your menu.