Juicy luscious ripe cherries – not only are they the perfect fruit to enjoy when they’re in season, but the good news is that both tart and sweet cherries are incredibly good for you! Rich in Vitamin C and containing heart healthy anthocyanins, you can feel good about indulging in cherries. This article explains how their health benefits and uses differ. Mini recipe round-up included!
Gloriously beautiful and delicious cherries are one of my favorite fruits! From the first moment when tart cherries appear in springtime, on through the sultry sunny days of summer, cherries are a must – not only for the flavor (and oh! the flavor!) but you also don’t want to miss out on the wonderful health benefits of cherries. More importantly, you’ll want to know when to use tart and sweet cherries and how their health benefits and uses differ.
More great news about cherries is that they have absolutely no known negative side effects for anyone, including pregnant women! Even diabetics can enjoy cherries as they are low glycemic (more details on that below).
I truly adore cherries. While I have loved my experiences of trying new fruits when traveling to exotic lands, I grew up in a North American climate that gives rise to fruits like grapes, apples and most stone fruits – plums, peaches, apricots, and of course cherries! So, I have to admit that these fruits will always be my first choices. And among cherries, there are numerous varieties, all delightful in their own flavors, and all have the same basic origins. So, imagine my delight when we recently came upon this inviting scene of cherry abundance at the local outdoor market in our neighborhood:
All cherries, from sour to sweet, hail from the Prunis genus. Most cherries that are available in the market today are cultivated for their specific qualities and come from the Prunis avium (wild or sweet) and the Prunis Cerasus (sour).
With a relatively short growing season, fresh cherries can be enjoyed only within a four month window. Sour or tart cherries, the ones used most for cooking, are available only in springtime and then give way to the summer sweet cherries that are perfect for cooking or snacking.
Important to note is that all cherries must ripen and sweeten on the tree, as they do not ripen further after being picked. This also leads to the short window for enjoying the fresh fruits and it’s not uncommon to see cherries in vast quantities at the height of their growing season, and then… nothing! So there’s good reason to catch them while you can!
Cherry trees take a few years to mature and bear fruit and they thrive in the temperate climates of North America, Europe, the Middle East, Western Asia, Australia and parts of northern Africa. Cherries do not grow well in tropical climates, because they require a set number of “chilling hours” in order to flower and then fruit… so we didn’t find cherries when we lived in India for a few years. The only time we discovered them was when we traveled very far north into high altitude in Kashmir for a short period one summer. To our delight, we were treated to amazing fresh plums, peaches, apricots and… gorgeous cherries!
Health Benefits of Cherries
According to Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, both sweet and tart cherries are considered warming and are known to stimulate metabolism. Cherries are full of phytonutrients that nourish us in many ways including the following:
Cherries are high in iron, nourishing the blood.
Cherries are low glycemic, so you can eat them without causing a spike in blood sugar.
Cherries are high in vitamins, including a high Vitamin C content, which among other benefits is great for skin!
Cherries contain anthocyanins, (the natural pigment that gives them their brilliant red/purple color) which makes them super heart healthy, as they strengthen arteries for better blood flow and repair cellular damage
Cherries contain phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that can reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Health Benefits of Sweet Cherries
Sweet cherries, such as the beloved Bing and Chelan varieties, among others, can be easily found during the summer months. You’ll know them by their deep, dark reddish-purple color – some even call them black cherries. Sweet cherries are an excellent fruit to indulge in, whether you choose to simply rinse them and snack on them by the bowlful, or you choose to include them in salads, in juices and drinks, in desserts, such as cakes or clafoutis, or in homemade ice creams or popsicles. It’s good to know that however you consume sweet cherries, you’ll gain the following benefits:
1. Sweet cherries are actually higher in anti-inflammatory actions than their tart counterparts, so eating these cherries can help to reduce pain caused by inflammation and reduce uric acid levels. They are especially good for people suffering from arthritis and/or gout.
2. Sweet cherries are high in potassium that balances and regulates blood pressure. Cherries are heart healthy for not only this reason, but also because the antioxidants in cherries help to reduce excess cholesterol and encourage cellular regeneration.
3. The high fiber content in sweet cherries provides bulk that improves digestion. If you tend towards constipation, (such as those who have what is known in Ayurveda as a Vata constitution that tends towards dryness, overall) you’ll find that eating cherries during the season will help to alleviate that issue.
4. Eating sweet cherries can help sleep patterns. Cherries are high in melatonin, a natural hormone produced by the body to aid in balancing our 24-hour cycle biorhythm, known as the circadian cycle.
5. Sweet cherries are high in iron, so eating cherries can enrich anemic blood.
6. Antioxidants and Vitamin C found in cherries are excellent for rejuvenating skin cells and encouraging collagen production and elasticity in aging skin.
Health Benefits of Tart (or Sour) Cherries
While all varieties of cherries provide the health benefits listed above, there are additional benefits that are more pronounced in tart cherries. These cherries, such as the popular tart Montmorency variety, are very sour, even when ripe. They are identified by their bright, lighter red color. Tart cherries are not often eaten fresh as snacks, but are prized by bakers and chefs for their delicious tartness that really shines in sweet baked items such as pies, tarts and crumbles or as dried fruit.
If you are lucky enough to catch the tart cherries available during their short life span in springtime, you can enjoy cooking with these fruits. But to get a hefty punch of their nutrients for health purposes, tart cherries are often consumed as a powdered supplement or liquid concentrate (more on that below). Their additional benefits include:
1. Tart cherries are cleansing to the lymphatic system, which is important for liver health.
2. Tart cherries are a source of energy and are excellent for protecting brain health and improve cognitive abilities.
3. Tart cherries are nourishing to the eyes and are helpful in maintaining eye health, in particular, in prevention of macular degeneration and in resolving eye dryness and vision loss.
4. Tart cherries contain numerous phytonutrients that help reduce muscle pain due to exercise and promote faster muscular recovery… therefore sour cherries are a favorite of those involved in sports or regular intense workouts, and for those undergoing physical therapy.
5. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in tart cherries are excellent for preventing risk of chronic disease. This is important, because numerous chronic diseases are rooted in inflammation.
6. With their super-high melatonin content, Tart cherries can regulate sleep, balance moods and, along with their high level of anthocyanins, help to prevent cancer by reducing cancer cell growth.
How to Make the Most of Cherries
Of course, eating fresh cherries in season is a must! There’s nothing like fresh juicy fruit… especially when you know how great these fruits are for health. Unfortunately, these days, unless cherries are grown organically, they are almost always on the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” agricultural lists that name the fruits most heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals each year. So, always make sure to thoroughly wash cherries before eating, and, whenever possible, buy organic cherries or purchase from a farm that you know avoids chemical spraying.
Tart cherries are quite unpalatable when raw and they are only available for a short time each year. In order to get the incredible health benefits of cherries listed above, tart cherries are often taken as a supplement over time. We would suggest taking organic tart cherry concentrate ✓ or organic tart cherry powder that you can mix with water, juices or into smoothies, jams, puddings, ice creams or other tasty treats. Both of these products are pure and simple and contain no additional additives or ingredients.
Note: You might find products that contain “acerola cherry” (Malpighia emarginata) which is a tropical cherry that comes from a shrub. Acerola is a great source of Vitamin C, but is a different fruit altogether and does not have the range of health benefits of the tart and sweet cherries we are talking about in this article.
Fresh Cherry Recipes
And if you’d like some inspiration for cooking with fresh cherries, check out these scrumptious recipes from top food bloggers on the web – enjoy your cherries knowing that they are great for health!
1. This toasted almond and candied cherry ice cream from Brown Eyed Baker looks fantastic! So creamy, dreamy and absolutely delicious looking, don’t you think?
2. I feel like whipping up a batch of these cherry chocolate chip blondies from Averie Cooks right now… you can always count on Averie to come up with excellent, foolproof recipes!
3. Get a relief from the summer heat with these frosty icy cherry popsicles from Where’s My Spoon… they look so refreshing, don’t they, and easy to make with only 3 ingredients!
Bountiful fresh seasonal cherries are not only delicious to eat, but they are fantastic for health! If you can, take the opportunity to eat fresh organic cherries when they are in season to help balance your sleep patterns, decrease pain associated with inflammation, support heart health, give a boost to digestion and more. Just don’t plan to sit down and devour a bowl of tart bright red cherries! Use those for cooking and enjoy snacking on the darker deep purple sweet cherries.
You can see that health benefits can be gained from both tart and sweet cherries, but the benefits differ somewhat between the two.If you want to tackle stubborn health issues that require more than just a seasonal punch of cherry goodness, try using a tart cherry supplement for a few months, as mentioned above, to get relief from more chronic issues.
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