Winter’s end brings delightful changes to produce departments! Displays are aglow with the first wave of gorgeous spring fruits. Among the newcomers are juicy cherries.
As with all seasonal fruits, there’s a science to picking fresh cherries. There are various ways to pit them, too. After reading this article, you’ll be an expert in cherry selection.
Cherries are small, plump orbs with radiant skins. Like peaches and plums, cherries are a kind of “stone fruit”, having a central pit.
In the US, commercially grown cherries have two classifications — sweet and tart. When food shopping, you can easily identify each type based on their appearance.
Most sweet varieties come in shades of dark red, such as ruby, burgundy, blackish-red, deep purple, and wine. Another sweet cultivar is golden yellow, tinged with a rosy blush.
Conversely, tart cherries are softer and smaller than sweet ones. Generally, their skins are bright crimson.
Since sweet cherries are high in natural sugar, they need no added sweeteners. In contrast, tart cherries are rather sour and need some sweetening to soften their edge.
Key Nutrients in Cherries
One cup of raw cherries has 97 calories and 3 grams of fiber. Are especially high in potassium and Vitamin C. They’re also a good source of bone-building minerals, including magnesium, calcium, manganese, and Vitamin K.
If you’re a woman reading this, here’s a newsflash for you! One serving of cherries meets 15 percent of your daily need for calcium. This mineral is vital for preventing osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease common in women.
The B vitamins in cherries ward off fatigue and help you manage stress. Plus, they are rich in antioxidants. These dynamic plant compounds repair and strengthen cells. There are many types of antioxidants, each one with unique healing powers.
7 Health Merits of Cherries
As robust spring fruits, cherries have special benefits — for your muscles, joints, heart, arteries, brain, mood, immune strength, and sleep.
Heavy exercise causes micro-tears in muscles, rendering soreness. Amazingly, drinking tart cherry juice after workouts reduces muscle aches! Credit goes to their anthocyanins, antioxidant pigments that give red fruits and vegetables their rosy hues. The anthocyanins in cherries relieve muscle pain by speeding tissue repair.
Research shows that cherries tamp down arthritic pain. This effect comes from their polyphenols, antioxidants that soothe tissue inflammation and slow aging. Polyphenols even combat gout, a type of arthritis marked by sudden joint swelling, redness, and pain.
Gout attacks are linked to high levels of uric acid, a byproduct of purine digestion. Among the foods that increase uric acid are seafood, steak, organ meats, beer, and fructose-sweetened beverages. In excess, uric acid forms sharp crystals in joint tissues, inflaming them. Cherries alleviate gout by lowering uric acid levels.
The potassium in cherries helps to regulate your heart rhythm and blood pressure, reducing your chances of stroke and heart disease. One cup of cherries has the potassium equivalent of a banana!
The natural sterols in cherries curb cholesterol, helping to keep your arteries clear of blockages.
One cup of cherries has a goodly amount of Vitamin C, meeting 15 percent of your daily need. Vitamin C teams up with anthocyanins to boost your resistance to viral, fungal, and bacterial infections.
Cherries can ease you into dreamland, courtesy of two hormones they contain. One is melatonin, telling your body when to sleep and awaken. The second hormone is tryptophan, partnering with melatonin to regulate your sleep cycle.
Most effective is drinking tart cherry juice, concentrating both melatonin and tryptophan. In a 2014 study of seniors with insomnia, sleep quality improved in those who drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice upon arising and before bed. On average, the subjects entered sleep faster and slept at least one hour longer.
Mind and Mood
When you encounter new information, polyphenols help you process the data. Meanwhile, anthocyanins sharpen cognitive function and recall. Serotonin is a hormone in cherries that promotes mental stability and optimism.
Popular Cherry Varieties
Sweet cherries are delicious raw, while tart cherries are best cooked, as in pies. Here are the varieties commonly sold at grocery stores and farmers markets:
- Sweet Red Cherries – Bing, Lapin, Skeena, Lambert, and Sweetheart.
- Sweet Yellow Cherries – Stella, Stark Gold, and the more expensive Rainier.
- Tart Cherries – Balaton, Morello, Queen Anne, and Montmorency.
Note that Rainier and Queen Anne look similar, being yellow cherries with hints of blush. However, Rainier is sweet, and Queen Anne is a pie cherry. So, if you spot yellow cherries at your local market, be sure to read the display signs before buying them.
Peak Cherry Season
In the United States, the leading producers of sweet cherries are California, Oregon, and Washington State. Most tart cherries come from Michigan. Unlike many fruits, cherries are harvested when fully ripe.
In California, sweet cherries mature from late April to mid-June. In other states, they ripen from May through July. Tart cherries come to markets from late June through mid-August.
Choosing the Best Cherries
Fresh sweet cherries are plump, firm, and shiny. Red varieties should have dark hues, a sign of ripeness. Regarding yellow Rainier cherries, choose those with a deep blush.
Tart cherries are softer than sweet ones. Still, avoid mushiness. As tart cherries are fragile and bruise easily, they need gentle handling.
Pass on cherries with wrinkles around the stems, indicating the fruit wasn’t properly chilled. Cherries need cold temperatures to stay fresh. Other red flags of poor quality fruit are brown spots, bruising, and of course, mold.
Ideally, buy cherries with bright green stems. To prolong freshness, leave the stems on until you’re ready to use the fruits. If you remove the stems sooner, the holes left behind will invite bacteria and food spoilage.
How to Store Cherries
After buying raw cherries, refrigerate them promptly. Keep them in your produce bin, tucked inside a paper or plastic bag, loosely closed. Or, refrigerate them in a bowl without a lid, allowing ventilation. Fresh cherries stored this way should keep for about one week.
Don’t wash your cherries until ready to use, as any residual moisture will attract mold.
Another option is freezing raw cherries. Ideally, pit them first, streamlining their use in recipes. Then, pat the gems dry and freeze them in airtight plastic bags or containers. They’ll keep for six months in a refrigerator freezer and up to one year in a deep freezer. Thaw frozen cherries in your fridge, not at room temperature.
How to Pit Cherries
There are several fun ways to pit cherries! Here’s how to prepare them and five pitting options. For video demonstrations, follow the links.
Cherry Prep – Examine the cherries, discarding any bruised ones. Rinse the edible cherries under cool water, pat dry, and pluck the stems. To avoid staining a cutting board, cover the surface with a washable mat. Or, use a baking sheet lined with parchment, wax paper, or aluminum foil.
Paperclip Trick – Straighten a paperclip to make it longer, giving you leverage. With one hand, hold a cherry. With the other, insert the short end of the paperclip into the top of the fruit. Then, using the paperclip like a shovel, scoop out the pit.
Chopstick and Bottle – For this method, you need a chopstick and a bottle with a narrow mouth that can hold a cherry in place. Set a cherry on the bottle mouth, holding it securely. Then, push the chopstick through the stem hole, and the pit will drop into the bottle.
Chopstick and Cutting Board – What if you don’t have a suitable bottle? You can still use a chopstick, supporting each cherry on a cutting board or baking sheet.
Simple Slicing – Using a sharp knife, cut each cherry in half. Then, remove the pit with your fingers.
Cherry Pitter – For the fastest and cleanest way to pit cherries, buy a cherry pitter. To use one, grasp the device with one hand. With the other, place a cherry in the jaws of the tool and squeeze the handle. A metal rod meets the cherry pit and pops it out.
After pitting your cherries, immediately use or freeze them.
Culinary Uses for Cherries
Since sweet cherries are ambrosial, you can relish them sugar-free. Add them to yogurt, smoothies, salads, and cereal. Or, eat them alone as a refreshing snack.
Tart cherries, also called “sour cherries”, are rather acidic. This is due to their low sugar content. For this reason, sour cherries need a bit of sweetening.
Sour cherries are perfect for jams, fruit glazes, jellies, fruit sauces, and desserts. In such recipes, their tartness lends bright flavor. For healthy ways to serve cherries, see this slideshow by Fitness Magazine.
Buying Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherry juice is available year-round. For the best effect, buy pure juice without sugar and artificial ingredients. Although tart cherry juice is mouth-puckering, diluting it with water tempers the astringency.
Typically, supermarkets stock cherry juice with their other bottled juices. Grocers with natural food departments may also keep a supply there. You’ll definitely find unsweetened cherry juice in health food stores. Plus, you can get it online.
Tart cherry juice complements smoothies and baked goods. Or, drink it mixed with water to remedy sore muscles and insomnia.
Cherries In-Season Treat
Come wondrous springtime, cherries are among the first fruits in season. These juicy gems have many health benefits, traced to their antioxidants, minerals, hormones, and vitamins. Research shows that cherries:
- lessen post-exercise soreness and arthritic pain
- help to stabilize blood pressure and heart rhythm
- reduce artery-clogging cholesterol
- enhance learning and memory
- foster equanimity
- bolster resistance to illness-causing germs
- usher sleep
Note that fruits in season tend to have optimal taste, nutrition, and pricing. Plus, fruit harvested locally is better for our planet. Delivery trucks use less fossil fuel, a nonrenewable resource. Trucking shorter distances also cuts air pollution.
In the US, cherry harvesting runs from late April through mid-August. Sweet cherries launch the season, and tart cherries follow in late June.
If possible, stock up when you buy cherries and freeze them. Then, you can eat ripe cherries in season and beyond!
NOTE – This content is solely educational, not intended as healthcare advice. Therefore, always adhere to any dietary and medical instructions you receive from qualified clinicians.
There are many ways to use spring cherries, such as eating them fresh, making cherry pies or tarts, adding them to salads or smoothies, and using them as a topping for yogurt or ice cream.