This week's look at what's new, plentiful or mysterious in the produce aisles:

The name pluot (PLEW-awt) reflects the fruit's hybrid origins. It has an interplay of traits typically found in two separate stone fruits, the plum and the apricot, with plum characteristics dominating. (It should not be confused with a plumcot, which has a more equal distribution of characteristics, or an aprium, which is more apricot than plum.)

The pluot is plum-like in shape with exceptionally smooth skin that tends to be somewhat mottled in color. It is exceedingly juicy, far more so than the ripest plum, with minimal tannic overtones, a higher sugar content than either a plum or apricot and an unmistakable apricot smack.

There are several whimsically named varieties, such as Dinosaur Egg and Dapple Dandy, which come and go throughout late summer.

The pluot was engineered in 1989 by fruit biologist Floyd Zaiger of Zaiger's Genetics; "We worked on it for more than 20 years before we introduced the first one," said Zaiger. The term pluot is a registered trademark.

HOW TO SELECT: Look for pluots that give readily when gently squeezed. Pluots tend to be more squishy than plums and may, in fact, feel overripe when they are in their prime.

HOW TO STORE: Ripen firm pluots at room temperature or hold soft pluots in the refrigerator. Handle with care; pluots are fragile and bruise quite easily.

HOW TO PREPARE: It works awfully well when eaten out of hand.

One could, I suppose, substitute pluots for plums in an uncooked or barely cooked dish, a tart or fruit salsa, for instance. It seems, however, a waste of sweet pluot perfection to mitigate its flavor with any other.

-- Renee Schettler