Know The Fuzzy Apricot

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apricot

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Apricots are soft, sweet, juicy, and mostly recognized for their fuzzy skin. This little orange colored fruit is packed with nutrients and great for snacking. Once you get past the giant plum-like seed casing in the middle, every bite is a delight. Let's take at look at this fuzzy little fruit and see where it came from and a few other interesting facts.

What is it?

The apricot is the fruit produced on a rather scrawny looking tree. The tree canopy spreads out like thin arms, producing a massive amount of fruit. The actual apricot is similar in size to a small peach. The orange color may appear the shade of a basketball, and will often be darker orange or even red on the side more exposed to the sun. The single seed is enclosed in a hard pit often called a 'stone.' If you look at the pit, you will see three ridges running down one side, which is where the new plant breaks through once it sprouts.

History

Apricots have been cultivated in Armenia since ancient times and it is thought to be native to the area. However, other studies and excavations of ancient sites have shown that apricots have been farmed in both ancient China and India almost 1,000 years prior to the Armenians. You'll find apricot groves in warm climates in the United States, even growing wild. The wild versions are still edible, though quite a bit smaller. If you live in a warm region, you may experience your first wild apricot sighting when you spot squirrels running around with small 'basketballs' in their mouth.

Health Benefits

Full of beta-carotene, giving them their orange color, and packed with fiber, apricots are a great addition to any diet. Apricot kernels contain between 2% and 2.5% hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) which, contrary to popular belief, is not enough to be harmful if consumed. The seed also contains high levels of cyanogenic glycosides which can help treat cancer and was used to treat tumors in the early 5th century. In more recent years, studies have shown that treating prostate cancers with the amygdalin found in apricot seeds may induce reduction in cancer cells.

If you are looking for heart healthy fruit, apricots are your best friend. Compared to other foods, apricots possess the highest levels of carotenoids which can help prevent heart disease and even lower bad cholesterol levels. While these are great benefits to have, other studies have shown that apricots are best when consumed in moderation and excess intake could actually be harmful to your body. As in most consumption, heed the advice “do all things in moderation.”

Fun Facts

Apricots are in the same family as plums. The full species and subgenus is Prunus armeniaca, which, when translated is “Armenian Prune.” Apricots are susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases. One of the biggest enemies of the apricot tree is the nematode, which is why the valuable seed is grown inside the pit to make sure a new generation of apricot survives in the wild. A little lesson in nature protecting itself.

Because their natural sugars help preserve the fruit, much like honey and dried dates found in the ancient Egyptian tombs, dried apricots can last for several centuries without spoiling. The kernels of the apricot grown in some regions are so sweet they may be a substitute for almonds. Amaretto liqueur and amaretti biscotti, two Italian favorites, are often flavored with apricot extract rather than almonds to save on costs.

How to Eat

Snacking on dried apricots is a great way to add a sweet treat to your day; anytime anywhere. Throw a handful in with your cereal, or top a crisp salad with dried apricots to add an extra flavor profile to your dish. Kids especially like the surprisingly fuzzy little texture of dried apricots, along with the super sweet taste. For an extra treat, dip dried apricots in a bit of melted chocolate.

Fresh apricots can be reduced in a sauce to be used as a glaze for pecan crusted chicken. Create a simple apricot sauce to accompany grilled pork. Dice up fresh apricot for a luau inspired salad. You can even halve apricots and grill them, just like you would peaches or pineapples. Consider mashing apricots to add to pan breads for a completely different spin on baking.

No matter how you use them, apricots are a delicious and healthy way to add some sweetness to your meals, without picking up the sugar bowl. Buy some today and try to incorporate them into your daily diet. You will feel good knowing you are boosting your nutrition level with every sweet bite.

 

Apricot Recipes

 

Saucy Apricot Stuffed Chicken Cutlets

2 Tbsp butter, melted
¼ cup green onion, chopped, including tops
½ tsp ground ginger, divided
½ cup plain stuffing mix
2 whole chicken breasts, pounded into cutlets
4 ripe apricots, halved, pitted, then cut into thin strips
½ cup apricot preserves
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, put melted butter, onions, ¼ teaspoon of the ginger, and the stuffing mix and mix together until combined well.
Divide the stuffing mixture in half and spoon one half into the center of each chicken cutlet.
Arrange the apricot wedges on top of stuffing, dividing evenly between the two cutlets.
Wrap the cutlets around the stuffing and apricot and lay open edge side down in baking dish. (Secure with toothpicks or string if desired.)
Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, before adding sauce.
For sauce, mix apricot preserves, apple cider vinegar, and remaining ¼ teaspoon ginger in a bowl; remove baking dish from oven briefly just to pour sauce over chicken, then return to oven and continue cooking for 10 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked through.

 

Surprising Sunset Apricot Salsa

2 cups apricots, diced small
1½ Tbsp cilantro, chopped fine
2 Tbsp sweet onion, diced small
½ tsp jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
¼ tsp ground cumin
dash red pepper flakes (optional)
1 lime, zested and juiced
½ tsp white wine vinegar
½ Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in glass bowl and toss to combine.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
Serve as a side with grilled pork, fish or chicken, or with tortilla chips for a snack.

 

Apricot Betty Bake

2½ cups ripe apricots, sliced in thin wedges
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 lemon, juiced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray baking dish or coat with butter.
In a large bowl, put graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, butter, and lemon juice, mixing together until well blended.
Add apricots and toss gently until combined.
Spread mixture in baking dish.
Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly and starting to brown around the edges.

 

Apricot Glazed Pork Kabobs

1 pound boneless pork loin, cut
1 (10 ounce) jar apricot preserves
4 tablespoons orange liqueur or orange juice
4 tablespoons butter
* triple sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Stir together apricot preserves, orange liqueur and butter. Simmer in a small saucepan until butter is melted. Place pork cubes in a heavy plastic bag. Pour 3/4 cup apricot mixture over to coat. Marinate at least 30 minutes.
Thread pork onto 4 to 6 skewers (if using bamboo, soak skewers in water for 20 to 30 minutes before using).
Grill over hot coals 10 to 12 minutes, turning once. Baste often with the marinade. Warm remaining apricot sauce and serve alongside kabobs.

 

Apricot Brandy Cake

½ cup chopped pecans
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
½ cup apricot brandy
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup water
4 egg
¼ cup butter
2 teaspoons apricot brandy
2 teaspoons water
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Sprinkle pecans on the bottom of the pan.
In large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, apricot brandy, oil, water and eggs. Beat on medium speed for 10 minutes. Pour batter over pecans in prepared Bundt pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
To make apricot brandy glaze: In medium pan, combine butter, apricot brandy and water. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool slightly. Stir in confectioners' sugar until of desired consistency. Drizzle over cake.