What's the difference between pluots and plumcots?
When asked how a pluot was different from a plum, marketers skipped over talk of heredity and speciation and, for ease, stuck with the 75 percent-25 percent explanation, which, given the lineage of the first pluots, was appropriate at the time. Even as pluots have evolved, the ratio has stuck.
So, too, has the name. There are many plum-apricot hybrids on the market today, many of which were not developed by the Zaigers and therefore cannot be legally called "pluots." But as coverage of the hybrids has moved from insider publications like Good Fruit Grower to those like the New York Times and Bon Appetit (two out of the three hybrids cited on Bon Appetit's Early Show appearance are not actually pluots), the word pluot is increasingly used to categorically refer to any tasty plum-apricot hybrid, making it at risk of becoming a genericized trademark like Q-Tip or Kleenex.
Breeders and growers outside the Zaiger family have made efforts to distinguish their hybrid plums from pluots by creating their own proprietary brands. The most famous of these is managed by a big grower-packer-shipper in central California called Kingsburg Orchards. In the mid-'90s, Kingsburg started growing a mottled Zaiger pluot called Dapple Dandy, which the company decided to rename Dinosaur Egg. The fruit was such a big hit that Kingsburg decided to label all mottled hybrid varieties as Dinosaur Eggs, Zaiger-bred or not. By simply marketing the fruits under a new name, Kingsburg got around the problem of labeling Zaiger-bred Dinosaur Eggs as pluots and non-Zaiger-bred Dinosaur Eggs as something else. Another big stone-fruit grower, Family Tree Farms, has led the charge to do away with the word pluot altogether and instead use Luther Burbank's old word, plumcot, to refer to any plum-apricot hybrid and not just the half-and-half crosses.
Of course, none of this renaming makes it any easier for us when we're out shopping for fruit. It's not uncommon to see pluots sold as plums and plumcots sold as pluots. In one store, I found the same Dinosaur Eggs sold as both plums and pluots, the only difference being that those in the pluot bin were more expensive. No wonder we can't keep it all straight.
Whenever I see pluots at my grocery store, I think about a crude joke California stone-fruit growers tell to illustrate the relative difficulty of growing and marketing peaches, nectarines, and plums. "A peach is like your mother: It's always there for you. A nectarine is like your girlfriend: It's something really dear and special. A plum is like the harlot down the street: It'll screw you every time." To this, I like to add my own silent postscript. A pluot is like Mary Magdalene: It's chronically misunderstood.
Chip Brantley is the author of The Perfect Fruit, a book about pluots.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.