Why Apricots Are Such a Delicious Fruit to Enjoy
Apricots are a soft, sweet, juicy fruit recognized by its fuzzy skin and its reddish-orange color. This is one of many healthy snack fruits that is packed with vital nutrients our bodies need. Besides the plum-like seed that makes up the apricot core, there isn’t much not to like about this delicious fruit. Let's dig into some of the history and origin of the apricot, along with a few facts you might find interesting.
What is it?
At first glance, an apricot tree isn’t much to look at. In season, the tree’s canopy is heavily laden with fruits, with branches that spread out like thin arms from its trunk. Apricots are similar to peaches, but are a little smaller in size. The orange color is like the shade of a basketball, and becomes darker orange or red on the side that gets more sun. It’s single seed is located inside the hard pit we call a 'stone.' Three ridges run down the side of the pit, from which a new plant breaks through when it sprouts.
Armenians know apricots well, since they are assumed to be native to the area and have been cultivated there since ancient times. However, other studies have revealed sites in ancient China and India where apricots were farmed almost 1,000 years prior to Armenian sites. Apricot groves thrive in warm climates in the United States, sometimes growing wild.
Wild varieties of apricots are edible, but are a bit smaller. In warm climates, you may have seen squirrels running around with small 'basketballs' in their mouths, never realizing that apricots were what they were carrying.
Apricots have lots of fiber and are full of beta-carotene, which gives them their orange color, making them a great addition to most diets. The seeds contain high levels of cyanogenic glycosides which help treat cancer and were used to treat tumors as early as the 5th century. Apricot kernels also contain between 2% and 2.5% hydrocyanic acid (cyanide), which is not enough to be harmful if consumed.. The amygdalin found in apricot seeds has been studied for its ability to reduce cancer cells in treating prostate cancer.
Apricots are also a heart healthy fruit, containing high levels of carotenoids, known to lower bad cholesterol levels and help prevent heart disease. Even so, other studies show that apricots should be consumed in moderation, because excess intake could actually be harmful to your body. The sage advice to “do all things in moderation is well heeded here.
The full species and subgenus for the apricot is Prunus armeniaca, which translates to “Armenian Prune.”In fact, apricots are part of the plum family of fruits, and are susceptible to a number of bacterial and fungal diseases. Nematode is one of the apricot tree’s biggest enemies. It is fortunate, then, that the seed grows inside the pit, allowing new generations of apricot groves to survive in the wild.
Dried apricots have natural sugars that help preserve it’s fruit, much like honey and dried dates found in the ancient Egyptian tombs, and can last without spoiling for centuries. Apricot kernels grown in some regions are sweet enough to be used as a substitute for almonds in recipes. Apricot extract is also used instead of almonds as a more cost-effective agent for Amaretto liqueur and amaretti biscotti, two well-known Italian favorites.
How to Eat
You can add a simple, sweet treat to your daily routine by snacking on some dried apricots. Or, throw a handful in with your favorite cereal, or to top off a crisp salad for a little extra flavor. Kids enjoy the fuzzy little texture of dried apricots, and the super sweet taste satisfies their cravings well. For a little extra oomph, you can dip some dried apricots in melted chocolate.
You can also reduce fresh apricots in a sauce used as a glaze for pecan crusted chicken, or to accompany grilled pork. Introduce a tropical flavor into your salads with fresh apricot slices or chunks. You can even slice apricots in halves and grill them, similar to pineapples or peaches. Lastly, consider mashing some apricots in pan breads for a deliciously different spin on baking.
Apricots are a delicious, healthy way to add natural sweetness to your meals, no matter how you use them. It feels good to enjoy nature’s bounty when you know you’re boosting your nutrition level with every sweet bite.