The Knowledge Orchard - Nourishing Your Mind

The Knowledge Orchard - Nourishing Your Mind

Cherries – A Quick Check Reference Guide

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Written by: Sarah Valois, Ph.D
About the Author: Sarah joined CherryPharm Inc. in 2006 as Director of Research and Development. She graduated from Cornell University with a doctorate in Food Science focused on fruit processing with minors in horticulture, nutrition and food safety. She received a B.S. in Food Science from the University of Kentucky.

A quick check guide on all things cherry

  • Cherries contain many phytonutrients that act as powerful antioxidants, including anthocyanins which are a class of compounds that make fruits red. The types and amounts of anthocyanins (and other phytonutrients) found in cherries is unique when compared to pomegranates, tomatoes or other red fruits. It is believed that this unique combination within the cherry is why health benefits ranging from lower blood plasma urate levels to less soreness and weight loss have been reported linked to including cherries as part of a balanced diet.1,2,3,4,5,6
  • With all the talk about the health benefits of tart cherries in particular it can get confusing when you want to find the “right” cherry. There are two basic types of cherries; tart cherries (Prunus cerasus) and sweet cherries (Prunus avium). Tart cherries are sometimes also referred to as sour cherries, especially in Europe. To further complicate the cherry-scape, each type of cherry has several varieties such as Montmorency (a type of tart cherry) or Bing (a type of sweet cherry). Then there is the bright red Maraschino cherry found in cocktails and around dessert time. In reality the Maraschino is really a highly processed variety of sweet cherries which are lighter in skin and flesh color than other sweet cherries. They are then put through a process which adds color to enhance the redness of the cherries.
  • The bright red Maraschino cherry found on top of an ice-cream sunday is pretty easy to identify. The good news is it’s quite easy to identify other types of cherries based on their appearance too. Montmorency tart cherries have bright red skins with a light flesh color. Most sweet cherries have a very dark ruby skin and flesh and are sometimes called black cherries because of their coloring. Below is a visual guide to the colors of cherries.
Tart Cherries Sweet Cherries Maraschino Cherry
Tart Cherries Sweet Cherries Maraschino Cherries
  • All cherries (tart or sweet) have a very short growing season and are often one of the first fruits harvested in the summer. Because of this short growing season, pesticide applications on cherry crops tend to be very limited compared to most other fruits. Since most tart cherries are not consumed as fresh fruit and do not need a flawless appearance, they receive even fewer pesticides than sweet cherries – making them a very natural choice. As stewards of the environment, the tart cherry industry has been at the forefront of sustainable growing practices, integrated pest management and responsible pesticide research for many years.7
  • Sweet cherries are much sweeter in taste and larger with firmer flesh than tart cherries. Because of their terrific taste, sweet cherries are primarily eaten as a fresh fruit. Tart cherries are much tarter because they contain fewer natural sugars and therefore are primarily used for cherry juice, cherry pies, jams or dried cherries rather than as a fresh fruit. The table below highlights the calorie and sugar differences between tart and sweet cherries giving a very clear picture as to the origin of their taste differences.8
    Sweet and Tart Cherry Comparison9
    Serving Size (about 20 cherries) Tart Sweet
    Calories 50 90
    Carbohydrates (g) 13 22
    Sugar (g) 9 18
    Fiber (g) 2 3
    Vitamin A (% DV) 26 2
    Vitamin C (% DV) 17 16
    Glycemic Index 21 25
  • Northern Michigan is the largest growing region for tart cherries in the US. Traverse City claims to be the “Cherry Capital of the World” and also hosts a National Cherry Festival10 annually in early July which celebrates cherries with food, games and other festivities including a cherry pit spitting contest. The Pacific Northwest is the largest growing region for sweet cherries in the US with many orchards in Oregon and Washington.
  • Cherries are like all other fruits and vegetables – the best way to consume them is as close to their natural state as possiable.11 Since the season is so short you should look for products that minimally process the cherry to provide you with all the natural compounds that make the cherry unique.

1 “Jacob, R. A. et al. 2003. “Consumption of Cherries Lowers Plasma Urate in Healthy Women” J Nutr. 133: 1826-1829.
2 Kelley, D. S. et al. 2006. “Consumption of Bing Sweet Cherries Lowers Circulating Concentrations of Inflammation Markers in Healthy Men and Women” J Nutr. 136: 981-986
3 Seymour, E. M. et al. 2008. “Comparative Impact of Tart Cherry-Enriched Diets on Metabolic Syndrome and Inflammation in Rats Fed High Versus Low Carbohydrate Diets” TheFASEB J. 22: 702-707.
4 Seymour, E. M. et al. 2008. “The Effect of Tart Cherry-Enriched Diets on Abdominal Fat Gene Expression in Rats” J Amer Diet Assoc. 108(9): A14-A14-E
5 Tall, J. M. et al. 2004. “Tart Cherry Anthocyanins Suppress Inflammation-Induced Pain Behavior in Rat” Behv Brain Res. 153: 181-188.
6 Uhley, V. E. et al. 2009. “Pharmocokinetic study of the Absorption and Metabolism of Montmorency Tart Cherry Anthocyanins in Human Subjects” Exp Biol. 565.4