Each year, the average American consumes roughly two pounds of cherries. And it’s no wonder—the United States is one of the largest producers of cherries, along with Chile and Turkey, where cherries were first cultivated around 70 BC. Cherries are characterized by either a sweet or tart flavor. In the US, we mostly use cherries in sugary dishes like cherry pie, a quintessentially American dessert. However, cherries work well in a variety of savory dishes as well! Turkish chefs are known to mix cherries into rice pilaf, stuff them in vine leaves, toss them in a salad of cilantro and walnuts, or reduce them as glaze for lamb chops.
But don’t dismiss cherries as just a flavorful treat. Their numerous benefits include richness in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Sweet cherries can help curb your sugar cravings, while tart cherries mixed in a juice or smoothie may be one of the best post-workout recovery aids.
Common sweet cherry varieties, such as the Bing or Van, are heart-shaped fruit about the size of a quarter, with a deep burgundy-red color. Other sweet cherries, such as Rainier, are more golden, with perhaps a hint of red.
Tart cherries are more round and bright red.
Sweet cherries, such as Bing, Rainier, Lambert, and Van are incredibly sweet and easy to eat out-of-hand. Tart, or sour, cherries, such as the Montmorency variety, might make you pucker if you eat them raw, but when baked or cooked, they release a subtle sweetness.
Cherries are readily available in major supermarkets from May through October, and at farmers’ markets during peak season. Frozen cherries are available throughout the year, as is canned fruit for baking.
In the US, high season for cherries is mid-June through the end of July. In Europe, sweet cherries are at their best from June through August, and sour cherries in July and August.
Look for plump, shiny cherries with deep color. Avoid cherries that are dull in color or shriveled, and those that have moldy spots or nicks on the skin.
When purchasing cherries in a bag, give the bag a wiggle. When cherries get old and moldy, they stick together and form clumps of cherries in the bag. Don’t take home old and damaged cherries; if the cherries don’t move in the bag and are stuck together in clumps, try another bag. If they move freely in the bag, you know you have a good bunch.
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 least affected are part of the “The Clean Fifteen”. Cherries aren’t officially ranked on either list, but are closer to the “Dirty Dozen” list, which means pesticides have likely affected the fruit, so choose organic whenever possible.
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.
Keep unwashed cherries in a plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper for up to 5 days.
You can also freeze fresh cherries to enjoy later. Wash them, pat dry, removes the pits, spread them out on a large cookie sheet, and freeze. Once frozen, put them in a zippered plastic bag, and they’ll keep for three to six months.
Don’t wash cherries until you’re ready to use them. Place them in a strainer and rinse under cool running water, then pat dry. You can slice the fruit away from the pit, or use a cherry pitter.
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, reducing heart disease risk.
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.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
Provides structural support to DNA and RNA, works with calcium in the formation of tooth enamel and bone, helps to filter wastes out of the kidneys, and regulates energy. Phosphorus also plays an integral role in cardiovascular health and repairing cells and tissues throughout the body.
Cherries help alleviate inflammation. Inflammation is an immune system response to an irritant in the body characterized by pain, stiffness, swelling, reddening of the skin, and warmth. While inflammation is important to your body’s ability to fight off infection, chronic inflammation can decrease your quality of life, causing you constant pain and discomfort. Anti-inflammatory foods such as cherries can be particularly helpful for people suffering from painful inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. For the same reason, athletes turn to tart cherries to help recover after intense exercise.
Recent studies also indicate tart cherries may promote better sleep and reduce insomnia because they contain melatonin, which helps to naturally regulate our sleep/wake cycles.
- The name cherry comes from the ancient Mediterranean city of Cerasus.
- Cherry trees can produce fruit for up to 100 years.
- The Japanese have a custom called hanami. This involves watching cherry trees as they bloom. Weather forecasts help determine the time the blossoms may appear, and people gather in temples and parks to watch the flowers open.