What Is The Difference Between Bullaces and Sloes?

It’s really very easy to mistake bullaces and sloe berries for one another. The two do share a bunch of similarities, so it’s understandable enough. Nonetheless, the truth is, a trained eye is able to spot the differences between the two, of which there are a fair few. 

To help, I’ve outlined the unique characteristics of each of these fruits below. 

So what is the difference between bullaces and sloes? The three primary ways in which bullaces and sloe berries differ are physically, in the way they taste, and finally, in the plants on which they grow. These three aspects are key guiding factors that will aid you in distinguishing between the two. 

Here’s a picture of the two, by the way, if you are looking for a visual queue:

Bullace vs Sloe

With this, all in mind, keep reading to find out more! 

How Do You Identify Bullaces?

You can identify bullaces by the trees they grow on – which have oval-shaped leaves, white flowers, and dark barks.

From parks to woodlands, and most often hedgerows, bullace plants can be found growing across a range of habitats in the form of either small trees or low-level shrubbery. 

Whilst, as with most flowering fruit trees, their small white flowers bloom by the end of April each year, their harvesting window is known to be a fairly late one; bullaces are only ready to pick in the months of October and November.

It’s probably for the best, as even once they have ripened, they remain renowned for both their astringency and sour taste. 

This is true of Black Bullaces in particular. 

Fortunately, both of these not-so-appetizing attributes diminish significantly after a bullace plant comes into contact with the first frost of Winter. 

At this point, the bullaces finally begin to sweeten. This is a welcomed result of the frost’s breaking down of the bullace’s skin and subsequent reduction of its tannin levels. 

Whilst they are much less common to come across, White and Shepherds Bullaces deserve mention here too.

In taste, both of these varieties of bullaces are different from Black Bullaces in that whilst they are still relatively acidic, they are much sweeter, even when raw and unripe. 

Appearance-wise, Black Bullaces are a deep purple in colour, whilst White and Shepherds bullaces are yellow, with a distinctly green inner flesh. 

Nevertheless, all varieties of bullace grow amongst similar surroundings, i.e., they take the form of shrubs and trees, which are home to leaves that are oval in shape, as well as clusters of white flowers, each of which has five petals. 

Whilst bullaces may not make the most appetizing treat when eaten straight off the tree; it’s a different story when they’re cooked!

Only then does their sweet flavour truly begin to dominate?

The fruit retains its tart notes, but at this point, it’s nothing that the taste buds can’t handle.

In turn, bullace fruits have become a sought-after ingredient in the making of many dishes, from jams and chutneys to cheeses and jellies! 

How Do You Identify Sloes?

You can identify sloes by the shrubs they grow on – which have lots of thorns and often appear in hedgerows.

Sloe berries grow on blackthorn shrubs, shrubs that are known to be rife with dark twigs and bark, as well as plenty of merciless thorns. 

These shrubs grow up to around three metres in height and can typically be found in the make-up of hedgerows.

Their dense nature makes them a wonderful candidate for it! 

Other environments in which you may stumble across a blackthorn shrub include woodlands and rocky terrains. 

Its small ovular leaves are joined by white flowers with five petals that bloom between the months of March and May.

The sloe berries themselves appear for the very first time when Autumn comes around. 

Much like bullaces, they are at their best when picked after the first frost of Winter once the wintery weather conditions have effectively sweetened the otherwise astringent and sour berries; characteristics that the berries are best known for. 

From a physical perspective, sloe berries are round in shape, and their skin is a deep blue-black colour, much like that of the common plum. 

Nonetheless, in size, they come in at a tiny diameter of just one cm. Hence, sloe berries are small, albeit mighty as far as their taste is concerned. 

Once they come into contact with the frost, or better yet, have been cooked too, their extreme tart flavour reduces, and the fruit finally becomes somewhat tasty. 

Its newfound flavour means that it is often used as the main ingredient in beverages such as gin, as well as seasonal preserves, fruity cheeses, and chutneys too.  

How Can You Tell A Bullace From A Sloe?

You can tell a bullace from a slow by the plants they grow on, their shape and size (bullaces are almost double the size), and colour. 

Having outlined the characteristics of both bullaces and sloes above, it is not difficult to see why the two are so easy to mistake for one another. 

However, whilst the two do share a number of similarities, from their white flowers, tart taste, shape, and even the type of dishes they tend to feature in, they do also have some key distinctions that we ought to be aware of. 

How They Grow

One of the most notable differences between bullaces and sloes berries is the fact that they grow on entirely different plants, each of which is unique within themselves.

For instance, whilst bullaces grow on shrubs or in the form of small trees, sloes grow on blackthorn bushes.

Blackthorn bushes are true to their name in that they are full of thorns, arguably their most distinguishing feature.

On the other hand, it’s rare to find thorny bullace shrubs, which is, of course, a significant relief for whoever winds up responsible for their harvest! 


The two do also differ in the physical sense.

Whilst both are round in shape and, as far as fruits go, are fairly small in size, bullaces are still pretty much double the size of sloe berries.


The two also vary in colour.

Sloe berries are a blue-black tone. Although this is similar to that of Black Bullaces, White and Shepherds bullaces have yellow skin, which is frankly incomparable to the skin of a sloe berry, and a breeze to distinguish! 


Finally, whilst when raw and whether they are ripe or not, both fruits are notably sour and acidic, sloe berries are much more so than bullaces.

Fortunately, the duo redeems themselves when cooked, at which point they are nothing short of scrumptious!

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