Designed by researchers in the US, the late-ripening plum has just been released by the government's chief scientific agency, the Agricultural Research Service.
Scientists W. R. Okie and colleagues at the ARS Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut research laboratory in the state of Georgia selected the 'Ruby Queen' seedling, adapted to humid conditions, in 1985 for testing, after three years of development.
"Ruby Queen's skin colour is dark-red to reddish-black, with firm red flesh and outstanding flavour. The plum is round and about two inches in diameter," report the researchers.
Tests conducted by research collaborators in New York show the flesh to have high antioxidant levels, they added.
Fruit and vegetables are well known to reduce the risk of some cancers through their antioxidant properties, which inhibit reactive oxidant species. These free radicals form naturally in the course of cell respiration and metabolism, but have been linked with disease-causing damage to tissue and changes in DNA that can lead to malignancies.
Fruit and vegetables, and vitamin C alone, have also been linked to better respiratory health and reduced risk of asthma.
Food manufacturers are increasingly turning to health-boosting ingredients in their food formulations to cash in on the growing desire by consumers to ease health concerns through diet. According to a recent Datamonitor report, Changing needs in functional food and drinks, the rapidly growing functional foods industry has seen its consumer base expand beyond consumers with specific medical needs to include those who are merely concerned about future health risks and even those who find that functional foods offer lifestyle benefits.
"Functional foods are filling an increasingly important part of our lifestyle, as we look to products enhanced with particular ingredients to get us through the day. There is an increasing demand from consumers who have no medical concerns, but who find that their lifestyle is improved or enhanced by the inclusion of gut health products in their diet, for example," said Andrew Russell, author of the report. More than 10 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, causing 6 million deaths every year or 12 per cent of deaths worldwide.
"We now know enough about the causes of cancer to prevent at least one-third of all cancers. Cancer is largely preventable: by stopping smoking, providing healthy food and avoiding the exposure to carcinogens," writes the UN-backed organisation.