Cherries: Much More Than Another Berry
By Pamela Redwine
Cherries are emerging as today’s newest “Super Fruit.” Research shows that tart cherries – most commonly enjoyed as dried and frozen cherries or cherry juice – have among the highest levels of disease-fighting antioxidants compared to other fruits.
Because tart cherries are available year-round, they are an extremely versatile, healthy ingredient choice. In fact, many consumers are swapping cherries for other common fruits like blueberries in their recipes.
A recent survey found that more than half (52%) of the respondents believe that blueberries have the most antioxidants. Yet 7 out of 10 people said if they knew cherries were as nutritious as blueberries, they would choose cherries.
People love the taste of cherries but they tend to think about pie and other desserts. They also think of cherries as just a summertime treat, but tart cherries are available every month of the year as dried, frozen or juice, so it’s easy to incorporate these antioxidant powerhouses into your daily diet.
Fresh cherries should be clean, bright, shiny, and plump with no blemishes. Sweet cherries should have firm, but not hard flesh, while sour cherries should be medium-firm. The darker the color, the sweeter the cherry.
Avoid cherries with cuts, bruises, or stale, dry stems. You’ll find stemmed cherries less expensive, but be aware that cherries with the stems intact will have a longer shelf life.
Unopened canned cherries can be stored on the shelf up to a year. Once opened, keep the canned cherries in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within one week. Maraschino cherries will last six to twelve months in the refrigerator. Unopened dried cherries will last up to 18 months.
Allow one cup serving of sweet cherries per person when calculating quantities, less for sour cherries.
Store unwashed cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and wash just before eating. Before eating fresh sweet cherries, leave them out on the counter for a few hours as the flavor is much better at room temperature. Fresh cherries should be consumed within two to four days.
The Antioxidant Power of Cherries
Antioxidant strength is measured in Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) units. ORAC measures how many oxygen radicals a specific food can absorb and deactivate. The more oxygen radicals a food absorbs, the higher its ORAC score. The higher the ORAC score, the better a food is at helping our bodies fight diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Nutritionists suggest that people consume 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units a day to have an impact on their health. Just one ounce of cherry juice concentrate supplies 3,622 ORAC units, about an entire day’s recommendation.
Antioxidant Levels of Cherries
Cherry Juice Concentrate: 12,800 ORAC units
Dried Cherries: 6,800 ORAC units
Frozen Cherries: 2,033 ORAC units
Canned Cherries: 1,700 ORAC units
The Power of Red — Anthocyanins
Cherries contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins that provide the distinctive red color and may hold the key to the health benefits locked inside. These rich, red pigments that give cherries their color are a type of phytonutrient known as flavonoids, which have been linked to a variety of health benefits. Studies suggest that these disease-fighting pigments possess anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and anti-carcinogenic properties. Of the 150 different flavonoids found in plants, anthocyanins appear to have the greatest antioxidant capacity. Cherries are one of the richest sources of anthocyanins, containing more than sweet cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Anthocyanins 1 and 2 are not found in blueberries.