Not as widely popular as their cousins, the peach and the plum, apricots are small, succulent stone fruits best known for their use in Middle Eastern cuisines. Although they may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, at only 17 calories a pop and packed with vitamin C, beta-carotene, and fiber, these tiny treats are the perfect go-to snack in the spring and early summer. Fresh, dried, baked, or in a jam, apricots will brighten your plate and your palate.
Apricots are tiny fruits—usually only about two inches in diameter. They have a smooth, orange-gold skin and a flowery fragrance.
Two apricot varieties are available in the US: the large, sweet Helena and the smaller, mellow Patterson.
Ripe apricots are slightly tart and extremely sweet due to naturally high fructose content. Not quite as mellow as a peach, but sweeter than a plum, apricots cook well and release more of their tangy sweetness when paired with savory meats.
Apricots are readily available during peak season at most supermarkets. Outside of peak season, they can be found at Middle Eastern markets, which may import them throughout the summer.
Peak season for apricots in the US is April through June, and in Europe from May through September.
Like most fruits, apricots are best when plump and heavy for their size. They should give just slightly to your touch. Look for fruit with smooth skin in a vibrant, light orange hue. Ripe fruit may have a slightly sweet fragrance.
Avoid apricots with soft spots, green spots, or discoloration around the stem, which may be an indicator of rot.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Apricots do not appear on either the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” or “Clean Fifteen” lists, but other stone fruits, such as peaches and nectarines, rank high on the “Dirty Dozen” list. So consider choosing organic apricots if pesticide exposure is a concern for you.
The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Fresh apricots often need to ripen at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for a couple of days after purchase. Once they’re ripe, you can eat them or store them, unwashed in a plastic bag, in the crisper for up to five days.
Wash fresh apricots well under cool, running water and lightly clean with a bristle brush. Cut the fruit in half, and the pit should easily slip right out of the soft flesh. Eat the apricot out-of-hand or add to a number of different dishes, such as salads, chicken stew, pancakes, or hot cereal. Most recipes do not require you to peel the apricot.
Dried apricots can be sticky to work with. To make chopping them easier, try rubbing a drop of grapeseed or olive oil on the knife.
A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.
This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.
Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Vitamin E is present in everyday neurological functions and may play a role in protecting the brain from cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E is essential for scavenging free radicals, supplying them with their much-needed electron pair. Eyesight, skin, and the immune system are all positively benefited through vitamin E intake.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bone. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
Apricots are a rich source of beta-carotene, the antioxidant responsible for the fruit’s bright orange color. An antioxidant is a substance that prevents the oxidation of cells in the body. While we typically think of oxygen as a good thing, sometimes when cells are oxidized, they produce free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are always looking for additional electrons to make them more stable. They often attach to the electron of another cell and cause new free radicals to form. Over time, free radicals damage the cells in the body and can even alter our DNA. Excessive free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also contribute to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help by stabilizing free radicals, thus reducing their potential to cause damage. Studies show beta-carotene is also particularly important for eye and skin health and boosting immunity.
- Apricots hail from China, where they were discovered more than 4,000 years ago. They were once called “moons of the faithful” and believed to enhance fertility.
- Apricots are in the same family as other stone fruits such as plums, nectarines, and peaches.
- Turkey, Greece, Spain, Russia, Italy, and the US are the world’s leading producers of apricots.