Jujubes (Ziziphus jujuba) are also known as Chinese dates. Even though dried jujubes resemble dates, they are actually not related to palm dates but instead are more closely related to plums and cherries. They are native to China, where they have been grown for many thousands of years. The plant spread to areas in Russia, North Africa, Mediterranean Europe, and also to the East and West coasts of the United States. There are several hundred varieties of jujubes. Most varieties are sweet, but there are some tart varieties that are preferred by people from Thailand. The Indian variety of jujube is not as sweet as the Chinese varieties.
Jujubes grow on small deciduous trees with thorny branches. The plant grows well in many regions because it is tolerant to a wide range of temperatures including extreme heat and mild frosts. The trees produce tiny white or yellow flowers in late spring and early summer. These flowers develop into jujube fruits that are round or oblong and range in size from a cherry to a plum. The jujube fruit has a thin, edible skin that encases sweet, white flesh. The skin starts off green and turns red as the fruit ripens. The middle of the fruit holds a single stone that contains two seeds. Fresh, crisp fruits are harvested when they ripen from October into December. The fruits will not ripen further once they are picked. If the fruits are going to be sold dried then it is allowed to dry on the tree before they are picked, since they don't dry as well off the tree.
Jujubes can be found in two forms, either fresh or dried. Fresh jujubes are crisp and tart, resembling an apple. The Chinese especially like raw jujubes, however this form is not as popular in other areas of the world. The more common form of jujubes is its dried form. Dried jujubes are wrinkled and soft and contain a high amount of sugar, making them very similar to dates. Dried jujubes can be used in any recipes that call for dates, including cookies, cakes, and other baked goods. Dried jujubes are often candied by pricking the skin several times and simmering the fruits in sugar syrup. The fruits are then served as a dessert and the remaining syrup can be used to top pancakes and waffles. The fruit is also used in many Asian countries to treat a variety of ailments.
The best place to find most forms of jujubes is in an Asian market. Fresh jujubes will be available from late summer until fall while canned and dried jujubes can be found year-round.