Also known as red dates, jujubes are naturally sweet with a caramel flavour while the texture (when dried) is chewy and soft.
London-based start-up Abakus Foods sells whole, dried jujube; crunchy jujube crisps as a healthy on-the-go snack, crispy sprinkles for porridge or yoghurt toppings and whole jujubes stuffed with a walnut, cashew or almond or “for balanced energy”.
Its products are made with 100% jujube fruit and contain no added sugar or sulphites, the company's CEO and founder Helen Wang said.
Inspiration for the business came from Wang’s Chinese mother.
“I was working long hours in finance in London and was pretty tired and stressed. My mom started sending me parcels of the jujube fruit and told me to eat them every day. That's when I re-discovered the jujube fruit - I really enjoyed their sweet flavour despite having no refined sugar,” she said.
"They gave good energy and helped me through the long days. When I started researching them, I learned about the amazing nutritional benefits and
thought they should be made available over here."
Abakus Foods sources its jujube fruit from the Xinjiang region in north-west China, where they are dried at temperature below 45°C (meaning they can be considered ‘raw’) or freeze-dried for the crisps. Abakus Foods then packs them at a facility in Essex.
When in season, it also sells fresh jujubes and, according to Wang, supplies are very stable.
“Jujube trees have the ability to tolerate drought conditions and withstand frost. In fact, they have a very low water-footprint and are planted in arid regions to help reduce desertification,” she told us.
Industrial ingredient trials
Keen to make jujubes accessible to the wider food industry - they would work well in bakery, dairy and confectionery products or beverages, Wang said - Abakus Foods is also experimenting with different formats.
“We are currently offering jujube granules on a trial basis – small, rice-sized jujube fruit granules which is convenient to use as an ingredient for food
producers. To make jujube tea, they give out an intense sweetness within a minute after infusing the hot water, which is much faster than the whole jujube fruit,” Wang said.
“[The granules] are extremely versatile and easy to mix up with other ingredients. We are collaborating with other companies to create products using the jujube as a superfood ingredient, such as jujube chocolate, jujube energy balls and jujube porridge pots.
“They provide a naturally sweet aroma and give extra benefits from the nutritional profile. Using the jujube fruit as an ingredient also gives a real point of difference.”
Abakus Foods has retail listings in Whole Foods Market, Ocado and Grape Tree, and exports to over ten countries in Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East and Africa. It also works with subscription snack boxes in the UK, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden and in March, Abakus Foods' jujubes will be sold in French supermarket Casino.
“Healthy eating is making waves across the world, so there are opportunities everywhere,” Wang said.
Although relatively unknown in the West, Wang said she has been surprised at how many people are aware of the fruit, particularly people from India, Iran, the US and Africa.
Jujubes are thought to originate from south Asia but they are also found in the southern Mediterranean basin, and the Italian expression ‘andare in brodo di giuggiole’, which means to be extremely happy, literally translates as "to go into the jujube soup".
They are also being embraced by independent food and drink manufacturers. UK start-up TG Green Tea, for instance, has an iced tea infused with ginseng and jujube.
An ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for anxiety and insomnia, jujubes contain 20 times more vitamin C than citrus fruit as well as manganese, iron and 18 essential amino acids.
They can also be considered an adaptogen that helps the body cope with mental and physical stress, Wang said.
Foods claiming to be ‘adaptogenic’, such as chaga mushrooms, are predicted to grow in popularity throughout 2018, according to market analysts at research company Mintel.
The term 'adaptogenic' has no legal or scientific basis in the EU, however, and manufacturers should be wary of making unauthorised claims.