What Are Cherries?
Cherries are small stone fruits, which means they have a pit or seed inside. They grow in several colors and flavors, but they're considered either sweet or sour. Sweet cherries are juicy and have a lower acid content than sour cherries, which are much more tart.
Michigan grows most of the sour cherries in the U.S. while Washington, California, and Oregon grow 90% of the sweet cherries.
Cherries thrive in most temperate regions, so they're harvested throughout the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, cherry trees blossom around April and produce fruits from June to August. In the Southern Hemisphere, cherries are a winter holiday fruit.
No matter where they're grown, cherries can be a tasty, healthy addition to a well-rounded diet.
Types of Cherries
This fruit comes in more than 900 varieties. But you're probably familiar with only a handful. Some of the most common types of cherries include:
Bing. These are one of the most popular sweet cherries. Bings are dark red and have a crisp, sweet taste with a touch of acidity. These cherries are ideal for eating fresh as a snack.
Rainier. These juicy sweet golden yellow and red cherries are a specialty crop because they're hard to grow. You can get them only in late spring through early summer.
Queen Anne. These look similar to Rainier cherries. But Queen Anne is more tart. Also known as Royal Ann, these cherries are often used to make maraschinos.
Black. This sweet variety has dark skin and is commonly used in pies, jellies, sodas, and other foods.
Maraschino. You might recognize these vivid red, syrupy-sweet cherries atop ice cream sundaes and in classic cocktails. They're full of added sugar because they're preserved for weeks in red food dye, sugar, and bitter almond oil.
Dried cherries. Removing moisture from cherries thickens their skin and concentrates their flavor and nutrients. Dried cherries last longer than fresh, are good for baking, and add flavor to yogurt, granola, salads, and trail mix.
Benefits of Cherries
Fresh cherries are full of minerals and other nutrients. Key among them is vitamin C. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, produce collagen, and defend against cell damage.
Cherries may benefit your health in other ways, including:
Less pain after workouts
Eating tart cherries daily could help your muscles recover faster after you exercise. Tart cherry juice also could do the same for you after a marathon or other intense workouts.
Many studies show that eating sweet or tart cherries may help prevent cancer by reducing inflammation, which can lead to and feed cancer cells. Cherries also have plant compounds that may fight cancer tumors. But more studies are needed to prove this.
Cherries are full of polyphenol antioxidants, which are found in plants, protect your heart from cell damage, and reduce inflammation. A study of more than 84,000 people found that people who got more polyphenols in their diets from foods like cherries had a lower risk of heart disease. Cherries have a ton of potassium, too, which you need to regulate blood pressure and maintain a healthy heart.
Fresh cherries are rich in many vitamins and minerals. A 3.5-ounce serving of sweet cherries has 10.4 milligrams of vitamin C, which is almost 14% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Cherries are also a good source of:
- Vitamin B6
Nutrients per serving
Without pits, 1 cup of sweet cherries contains:
- Calories: 97
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: Less than 1 gram
- Carbohydrates: 25 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Sugar: 20 grams
What to watch for
Since you eat cherries whole, wash them well to remove any pesticides or other contaminants.
Cherry pits naturally have small amounts of cyanide, which can be poisonous. Avoid eating cherries with damaged or crushed pits. If you swallow one pit, don't worry. You'd have to eat a lot of crushed pits for them to cause harm. And it's just good practice to spit out the pits.
How to Prepare Cherries
You can find cherries at the grocery store, health food stores, co-ops, and farmers markets. Some farms will let you pick your own cherries and pay for them by the pound.
Choose cherries that have bright green stems and plump fruit. A darker-color fruit will mean better flavor.
You can enjoy cherries on their own, or add them to your diet in many ways:
- Make a yogurt parfait with rolled oats or granola and cherries.
- Blend frozen cherries with banana, yogurt, and milk for a smoothie.
- Add chopped cherries to onion, tomato, and jalapeño for a twist on pico de gallo.
- Include dried cherries in your next batch of fresh granola or trail mix.
- Punch up a side of wild rice with a handful of tart cherries.
- Swap cherries for blueberries in muffins and for raisins in cookies.
- Mix dried cherries with quinoa and walnuts for a whole-grain salad.