The song says “life is just a bowl of cherries.” If that's true, you can count me in! Cherries are one of the tastiest fruits you'll ever find, and one of the prettiest when placed in a bowl on a table. So, fill a bowl and check out what cherries have in store for your life.
What is it?
Cherries are part of the agricultural family that includes plums, apricots, and peaches. Like their cousins, cherries have a stone pit in the center, but because of their smaller size, these pits cause a bit more consternation. This has inspired many inventors to design mechanical cherry pitting tools.
You'll find cherries in the stores year-round, pitted and unpitted, canned and frozen, so you can enjoy eating them just about anytime in a number of savory and sweet recipes. Not only are cherries delicious and very snack-worthy, many people enjoy them for their health benefits as well. This little dynamo contains powerful antioxidants and healthy benefits for cardiovascular wellness.
Cherries have been cultivated since prehistoric times, making it one of the oldest known fruits in existence. Cherry trees are native to parts of Asia and Europe. However, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations knew the fruit, as well.
At least one species of cherry trees was well established in America by the time the colonists arrived. Today, four states contribute 90% of the world's cherry crop. Of the more than 1,000 varieties of cherry trees, only 10 are commercially produced for consumers.
Cherries are a great source of potassium and vitamin C, but their biggest benefit is from a specific antioxidant called anthocyanins, which also gives the fruit its rich red pigment. These anthocyanins have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in scientific studies, which in turn reduces the risk for high cholesterol, heart disease, and excess belly fat.
Other research suggests that cherries ease painful symptoms of conditions such as gout and arthritis. One particular study by an Oregon university pointed to less muscle pain in runners who participated in a long-distance relay after consuming cherry juice for the week before the race. This is a tasty trial that I know many runners wouldn't object to participating in.
One of the more expensive varieties of cherry is the Rainer cherry. The reason for this is because, in general, cherries are a favorite of birds. In the case of the Rainer cherry, the birds consume most of the season's harvest before they have a chance to be picked for commercial sale, thus creating a shortage which creates a higher price tag. Cherry trees also provide food for several species of caterpillars, so you can see that when a bowl of cherries graces our table, it's dodged a lot of obstacles to get there.
Cherry trees are classified as part of the rose family. As such, cherry leaves are poisonous, unlike the fruit itself. It takes about five years before a cherry tree matures enough for the first harvest. It's estimated that the average American household consumes about five pounds of cherries each year, and each cherry tree produces enough cherries to bake almost thirty pies.
How to Eat
Fresh cherries have a short shelf life of just four days in a refrigerator, so they must be consumed quickly or frozen as soon as possible. Freezing them quickly if not consumed fresh also retains the full benefit of the antioxidants and nutrients in the fruit. Like other highly-perishable fruit such as blueberries, cherries should not be washed until you're ready to eat them. The moisture that inevitably stays trapped in the packaging and on the fruit is bacteria's best friend.
Cherries can be snacked on as is or used in any number of recipes for a tart, fresh flavor from nature. They make great additions to breakfast foods like cereal, oatmeal, pancakes, and yogurt. You can also find dried cherries, perfect for including in meat or green salads, or with a number of pasta and rice dishes.
If you buy concentrated cherry juice, you can create some exciting smoothies and spritzers for a mid-day treat or evening cooler. Of course the dessert possibilities for cherries are well known. You'll want to give cherries a try in pies, muffins, cakes, cookies, compotes, and much more. And who hasn't indulged in a chocolate covered cherry at some point in their life?
Cherries are another of the super-foods highly recommended by nutritionists for healthy benefits. A quick search for recipes will quickly introduce you to new ways to enjoy these old time favorites which have gained in popularity again. Life is just a bowl of cherries when you include these tart morsels in your meal plan.
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