The cherry is actually a member of the rose family. The fruit is typically about two centimeters in diameter and offers an inside of fleshy fruit that is surrounded by a thin skin. This tasty fruit is packed with natural antioxidants. They also provide a number of nutrients including calcium, iron, potassium, and flavonoids. Because of the high nutrient content, cherries provide a number of health benefits. In fact, cherries can help you overcome a number of different diseases and may even help to prevent cancer.
Cherries are small stone fruits that come in a variety of colors and flavors. There are two major categories – tart and sweet cherries.
Their colors can vary from yellow to deep blackish-red.
One cup (154 grams) of sweet, raw, pitted cherries provides:
- Calories: 97
- Protein: 2 grams
- Carbs: 25 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Vitamin C: 18% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Potassium: 10% of the DV
- Copper: 5% of the DV
- Manganese: 5% of the DV
Vitamin C is essential for maintaining your immune system and skin health while potassium is needed for muscle contraction, nerve function, blood pressure regulation, and many other critical bodily processes. Cherries are also a good source of fiber. Plus, they provide B vitamins, manganese, copper, magnesium, and vitamin K.
Eating cherries leads to a boost in antioxidant activity in the body, even after just one-and-a-half servings of tart cherries, commonly known as sour cherries. A clinical study conducted at the University of Michigan found that antioxidants in tart cherries make it into the human bloodstream and boost antioxidant activity. Twelve healthy adults, aged 18 to 25, were randomly assigned to consume either one-and-a-half cups or three cups of frozen tart cherries. After the participants ate the cherries, researchers analyzed their blood and urine and found increased antioxidant activity for up to 12 hours after the consumption of cherries.
The lower the glycemic index of fruits, the better they are in terms of diabetes risks. With a glycemic index of just 22 sweet cherries gets a good score on this scale. For example, they have half the amount of glycemic found in grapes. This makes them a good snack choice for people with diabetes.
Researchers believe that the anthocyanins pigments that provide cherries with their distinctive red coloring help lower cholesterol levels and research by the British Journal of Nutrition indicates that the polyphenol found in cherry juice seems to bring blood pressure down. Just 1 cup (154 grams) of pitted, sweet cherries provides 10% of the DV for potassium, a mineral that is essential for keeping your heart healthy. Potassium is needed to maintain a regular heartbeat and helps remove excess sodium from your body, regulating your blood pressure.
European studies show that tart cherry juice helps its drinkers get a good night’s sleep, and it might even help them to overcome insomnia. Cherries contain a chemical called melatonin which regulates your sleep-wake cycle. A study in 20 people showed that those who drank tart cherry juice concentrate for 7 days experienced significant increases in melatonin levels, sleep duration, and sleep quality, compared to a placebo. Similarly, a 2-week study in older adults with insomnia found that drinking 1 cup of tart cherry juice before bed increased sleep time by 84 minutes!
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that the antioxidants cherries contain helps to boost memory. If they improve memory, maybe they could also slow down the disease’s progress.
Cherries are rich in the antioxidant compounds that guard the body against the damage free radicals (or oxidants) cause. Preliminary research suggests that the antioxidants in cherries could help in arthritis treatments. Since these findings come from experiments on animals, more research is being done with humans. The high antioxidant levels found in cherries enable to the body to resist the free radicals that power the aging process. Research suggests that a daily glass of tart cherry juice helps your skin retain its freshness.
Cherries can decrease uric acid levels in your body. Gout suffers who ate cherries for a couple of days reduced their risks of a gout attack by a third. A study of 10 women found that eating 2 servings (10 ounces or 280 grams) of sweet cherries after an overnight fast lowered levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) and significantly reduced uric acid levels 5 hours after consumption. Another study of 633 people with gout demonstrated that those who ate fresh cherries over 2 days had 35% fewer gout attacks than those who did not consume the fruit.
Additionally, the study revealed that when cherry intake was combined with the gout medication allopurinol, gout attacks were 75% less likely than during periods when neither cherries or allopurinol were consumed.
The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition investigated if substances found in tart cherry juice help to reduce muscle pains and soreness. Their study indicates that tart cherry juice drinkers recover faster from muscle pains. A study in 27 endurance runners demonstrated that those who consumed 480 mg of powdered tart cherries daily for 10 days before a half-marathon averaged 13% faster race times and experienced less muscle soreness than a placebo group
How to Buy
Cherries should look shiny and feel firm and plump, not wrinkly or bruised. Sour cherries are naturally softer than sweet ones, and that cherries at the farmers’ market tend to be hand-picked and more fragile than commercially grown ones.
Sour cherry season is July into August.
Sweet cherry season is a little longer and goes in waves. California’s season comes first, producing the ones you see at supermarkets starting around May. As that supply peters out in June, sweet cherries from the Northwest start coming in. Typically, you will continue to see them through August.
Bing is by far the predominant sweet cherry. It’s firm, dark red, sweet, and juicy.
Skeena, a large, nearly black cherry; Lapin, which is quite firm and sweet; and the heart-shaped Sweetheart.
Rainier cherries, a fleeting mid-season variety, have distinct pink-tinged yellow skins and very sweet, yellow-colored flesh.
Montmorency is the most common of the sour cherries. It’s bright red like a Twizzler, softer, and more tender-skinned than any of the sweet cherries.
Remember: only a tiny fraction of sour cherries are sold fresh. The rest are turned into juice and other products.
How to Store
Cherries like to be cold. Put them in the fridge, unwashed, and keep them dry. If you have room, it is suggested that you store them in layers between paper towels.
Cherries will keep well for at least a week in the fridge. They freeze well, too. Rinse, pat dry, and freeze them in an airtight container. You can do this keeping the stems and pits intact, but you might find it more convenient later on if you pit them first.
How to Cook
Here are some ways to incorporate cherries into your diet:
- Enjoy them organic and fresh in the summer.
- Pair dried cherries with dark chocolate chips, unsweetened coconut flakes, and salted almonds for homemade trail mix.
- Make a cherry compote out of frozen tart or sweet cherries and spoon on yogurt, oatmeal, or chia pudding.
- Add halved, pitted cherries to a fruit salad.
- Incorporate dried cherries into baked goods.
- Add a bit of tart cherry juice to sparkling water and top with a lemon wedge.
- Add fresh or cooked cherries to ice cream, pies, crumbles, and other desserts.
- Make a homemade cherry barbecue sauce to use with meat or poultry dishes.
- Make cherry salsa with diced cherries and fresh herbs like basil to serve alongside savory meals.
- Add frozen cherries to your favorite smoothie.