Summer’s here and you know what that means—time to go crazy at the farmer’s market and load up on fresh in-season fruits and veggies. One of our favorite, healthy summer treats is a childhood classic: cherries, which are chock-full of good-for-you nutrients. Since we’re in peak cherry season (sweet varieties start showing up on shelves in mid-April and typically last through June, while the tart fruits are harvested from July to August) here’s everything you need to know about the firm and juicy summer staple.
In the U.S., growers produce two main types of cherries: sweet and tart. The sweet ones, grown mostly in California, Washington and Oregon, are usually referred to as Bing cherries (even though there are actually several varieties with fun names like sweetheart and stardust that come in reds, yellows and pinks). The tarts are typically grown in Michigan and are most commonly of the Montmorency variety.
“When choosing fresh tart cherries, pay close attention to the stem,” says Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute. Specifically, look for a solid green stem, which indicates a fresher cherry, for both sweet and tart types. When it comes to color, look for depth, whether you’re picking yellow, pink, or ruby-red varieties.
The summer produce staple is packed with goodies like antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, potassium, and anthocyanins, which have been shown to deliver big brain bennies, especially when it comes to preventing Alzheimer’s. Some research has also show that tart cherries can help speed your post-gym recovery. A serving of cherries (about 21 bite-sized fruits) is less than 100 calories. Score. The snackable fruits also have a low glycemic index, meaning all that sweetness releases into your system slowly, keeping you fuller longer. (Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)
Cold is key, when it comes to storing your cherries no matter what variety. But there are some important differences between the two types. “Tart cherries are more delicate and have more fragile skins than sweet varieties,” says Korsen. In other words, don’t throw them in your tote bag and squish them under all your other farmers market finds. Sweet varieties can take a little more manhandling and are best stored by washing, then freezing and thawing them in the fridge for a full summer of sweetness.
Wash your cherries with this DIY fruit & veggie cleaner:
Cherries do come with a downside: those pesky pits. When eating them on their own, munch with caution so you don’t end up cracking a tooth. To pit, the easiest method involves heading to the store and picking up a cherry pitter, which will pop those suckers out in a snap. If you’d rather DIY-it, grab a pastry tip, paper clip or chopstick and push it into the cherry until you hit the pit and can pop it out the other side (just beware the juice).
Consider adding cherries to your regular smoothie or grain bowl, says Korson. “Cherries certainly have a place there with their unique sweet-tart taste and bright pop of color. We’ve also seen some inclusions lately of tart cherries in beef jerky applications, which is a fun and unique way to use the ingredient.” Plus, there’s always the classic applications of cherry pie, cobbler, or tart.