Cherries are not just the fruit of one particular plant. Cherries come from many different species of the plant genus Prunus. Not all Prunus tree fruits are cherries. Prunus trees also produce plums, apricots and peaches to name but a few. Cherries are a small, rich fleshy fruit with a stone in the middle. Their colour is usually dark red but can also be pale pink and even yellowy.
The two cultivated forms of cherries are the sour cherry, Prunus cerasus, and the wild cherry, Prunus avium. Most cultivators grow the wild cherry variety, which is the variety most often utilized commercially. The sour cherry variety is the one most commonly associated with cooking.
The two species are not cross-pollinated although both originated in Asia and Europe. Due to their relative fragility under a barrage of rain or hail, the highly valued fruit is expensive compared to many fruits. Even so, wild and sour cherries are perpetually in high demand.
Depending on where they are being grown, cherries become ripe for picking at different times of the year, but usually their peak season is the summertime. In North America and Europe, June is cherry picking time. In the U.K. and Canada, cherries are harvested in mid-July to August. Based on the data from 2007, annual production worldwide is about two million tons, 40% of that originating in Europe and 13% in the U.S.
Cherries are used in many baking recipes for their tartness or flavorful sweetness, depending on the variety used. The cherry has also been found to have medicinal properties that have been proven to be beneficial in the prevention of some critical diseases and painful physical conditions.
Lucius Licinius Lucullus is recorded to have brought a cultivated cherry from Anatolia to Rome in 72 BC. Later, King Henry VIII, who had enjoyed the fruit in Flanders, had the cherry introduced to his country at Teynham, near Sittingbourne in Kent, England.
Cherries contain anthocyanins which is the red pigment in many fruits. The anthocyanins in cherries have proven to reduce inflammation and pain in laboratory rats. The anthocyanins have also been shown to be potent antioxidants and studies have indicated that they may be beneficial in the fight against diabetes and heart disease. In addition, the anthocyanins in cherries resulted in lower levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in rats that were given a high-fat diet that included whole tart cherry powder mixed in.
Research also revealed that the health benefits of drinking one full glass of cherry juice daily equals the benefits of consuming 23 portions of vegetables and fruit. Furthermore, it was determined that drinking 250ml of cherry juice provides more antioxidants than five portions of tomatoes, carrots, peas, watermelon and bananas. Antioxidants attack free radical molecules in the body and can also help prevent heart disease, ageing, cancer and stroke. The juice tested was from the Montmorency tart cherry variety which is U.S. grown.
Cherries contain numerous vitamins such as Vitamin C and Vitamin A, and are high in nutrients like beta-carotene, perillyl, ellagic acid, bioflavonoids and potassium. This delightful fruit also produces melatonin. Melatonin, in addition to helping slow the ageing process, also helps control healthy sleep patterns. A diet that includes cherries can help decrease body fat, cholesterol and arthritic inflammation.
The health benefits of cherries are quite impressive. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, Cherries also are known to relieve headaches, gout and the associated symptoms of Fibromyalgia Syndrome.
Sweet or sour, cherries have a pleasant taste and are perfect for desserts and snacks. They can be baked in pies, added to homemade granola bars or yogurt, or even eaten as whole fruit by themselves. Of course, a cherry is the perfect topper for an ice cream dessert. Black cherries and bing cherries are also manufactured in teas for a tasty tea and biscuit afternoon tea break. The knowledge that you are adding nutritious antioxidants along with a tasty snack only sweetens the experience.
Nature has provided man with so many delicious foods with high nutritional value. We are only beginning to realize the extent of that nutritional bounty. As science develops new technologies for the exploration of disease-preventing foods, we often find that the simplest things have complexities that offer significant health benefits. Cherries are being championed as one of the best in that category.
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