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Cheers to Cherries

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You have heard about the antioxidant benefits of blueberries and other berries, but what about cherries? I personally love cherries. The good news is that they are not just a summer fruit anymore. You can get them dried, frozen, canned, or even as juice! I often buy them frozen and put them in my oatmeal before I microwave it and they add some wonderful flavor and sweetness.

The compound that makes tart cherries so red is anthocyanin, a phytochemical known as a flavonoid.

The compounds found in cherries may help to:
  1. Reduce inflammation and pain of arthritis and gout
  2. Offer protection against heart disease and certain cancers
  3. Reduce risk of diabetes
  4. Aid in treatment and possible prevention of memory loss

Tart vs Sweet

There is a distinct difference between tart and sweet cherries. Sweet cherries are grown primarily for fresh eating. The most famous sweet cherry variety is the Bing cherry. Bing cherries are a dark red/burgundy color, but there are also lighter sweet cherry varieties such as Ranier and Queen Anne.

Tart cherries, also known as sour cherries, are used for canning and processing to make jams and pies. Tart cherries have a distinct, bright red color. Tart cherries are rarely sold fresh because they are so tart. Montmorency is the only tart cherry grown commercially in the US.

Other fun facts about cherries:

  • Cherries were brought to America by ship with early settlers in the 1600s
  • Michigan is the leader in producing tart cherries. They produce 200-250 million pounds of tart cherries per year
  • In 1852, Peter Dougherty,a Presbyterian missionary living in northern Michigan, planted cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula (near Traverse City, Michigan). Much to the surprise of the other farmers and Indians who lived in the area, Dougherty's cherry trees flourished and soon other residents of the area planted trees. The area proved to be ideal for growing cherries because Lake Michigan tempers Arctic winds in winter and cools the orchards in summer.
  • There are 7,000 cherries on an average tart cherry tree and it takes 250 cherries to make a cherry pie.
  • The third week of July is usually the peak of cherry harvest in the US.
  • Cherry pie filling is the number one pie filling sold in the US
  • Tart cherries contain 19 times the of beta carotene of blueberries and strawberries
  • They are also rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin E and also provide potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and fiber
  • Tart cherries are one of the few known food sources of melatonin. Melatonin is an antioxidant that helps regulate our circadian rhythms and natural sleep patterns
  • A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that tart cherries ranked 14 in the top 50 foods for highest antioxidant content per serving size—surpassing red wine, prunes, dark chocolate and orange juice


Get creative with your cherries! Here is a link to more cherry recipes than you will know what to do with! For snack ideas, especially for the kids, click here.

For more information on cherries and even more recipes, check out www.choosecherries.com

Photo of cherries courtesy of www.choosecherries.com

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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