We are told to include fruit in our diet in order to stay healthy. At this time of the year, cherries emerge as a good choice for many consumers, given their tastiness and a variety of health benefits.
Anthocyanins give cherries their dark purple pigmentation.
One benefit of cherries is they contain a relatively low calorie count. Sweet cherries, at 100g (12-15 cherries), provide about 63kcal of energy, 16g of carbohydrate and 13g of sugar, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.
"Red cherries are fat-free and sodium-free, making them healthy snacks," said Keith Hu, director of international operations at Northwest Cherries.
Assoc Prof Ratchanee Kongkachuichai of the Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University, said cherries are pigment-rich fruits, full of anthocyanins, a class of flavonoid compound that has strong antioxidant properties that help prevent free radicals, substances that damage cells in our body and accelerate ageing and many disease processes.
The anti-oxidant rich cherries also show promise fighting and protecting against certain types of cancer.
"Anthocyanins give red, purple or blue pigments found in many fruits and vegetables. Thai fruits that are high in anthocyanins are rare," the professor said.
Anthocyanins in cherries can be anti-inflammatory. Due to this potent quality, studies show that they may help manage and prevent inflammatory diseases. In particular, tart cherries may help control arthritis and gout, a condition that is caused by excessive uric acid in the blood.
For better health, eat a wide variety of fruit as each provides different types of nutrients.
According to Prof Ratchanee, 100g of sweet cherries have 79.65mg of anthocyanin-glycosides, substantially higher than durian (0.24-0.65mg).
In addition, cherries have considerable levels of beta-carotene. This helps fight cold, flu and infection as well as prevent night blindness and other eye and skin problems.
Every 100g of sweet cherries contain about 770 microgrammes of beta-carotene. The level is bit higher than the amount found in watermelon of 616 microgrammes, in durian (243-554 microgrammes) and in guava (88 microgrammes).
Sweet cherries however are beaten by guava as a good source of vitamin C. At the same serving of 100g, cherries have between 7 and 10mg of vitamin C, compared to 92-123mg found in guava.
Although cherries are good source of fibre, it's hardly comparable to some Thai fruits. For 100g, cherries have dietary fibre of 2.1g, compared to 3.9g in guava and 5.4g in durian (chanee type).
Cherries are low on the glycemic index, the ranking of foods with carbohydrates according to their ability to raise blood sugar levels. Sweet cherries have an estimated glycemic index of 22, lower than other fruits including guava (34), pears (38), peaches (42), grapes (46), rambutan (55), pineapple (66) and watermelon (72).
"Thai consumers may think that yellow cherries, better known as 'rainier,' are not sweet. That's not right," said Hu. "Actually, they are sweeter than the red ones."
Hu said cherries were usually picked between 4am and 11am, washed and immediately brought to a warehouse. Soon afterward, they are delivered to a production line where they are packed in 1C water.
They are then packed for export and usually arrive in Thailand around two days after they have been picked.
Rainier cherries have a higher sugar content than red cherries.
"The water temperature in the shower machine is about 0C, and that cools the cherries down immediately to make them firm," he explained.
Hu advised consumers to rinse cherries thoroughly even though they are packed in water.
"Most consumers in the US don't wash cherries," he said. "Here in Thailand it's a good idea to wash them because they are repacked into different sized packages for retail. The process means staff touch the fruit," he said.
To maintain good health, Prof Ratchanee advised enjoying a rainbow of fruit and vegetables to get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
"Eat four to five servings of fruit and vegetables daily to keep healthy," she said.
According to her, one serving contains about 60kcal, or about 15g of carbohydrate. The serving examples she gave were four or five pieces of guava, five rambutans, six pieces of papaya and pineapple, 12-15 cherries, two jackfruit chunks or half a banana.
In addition to the flesh of fruit, skin is also important as it contains phyto-nutrients that promote health and prevent diseases.
It is also a rich source of dietary fibre that keeps constipation at bay, helping decrease the risk of colon cancer.
"The skin is often peeled off in many fruits even if it's edible," the professor said. "Eat some fruit along with its peel."
The only precaution about eating fruit skin is that it may contain insecticide residue.
"To minimise the risk from chemical residues, rinse the fruit thoroughly. Then, soak it in a bowl of salt water for about half an hour. Then wash it again in cold water to ensure that it is clean enough to enjoy," she said.
What's more, seeds and pulp are also edible, Prof Ratchanee said. It's good to eat a whole grape with its seeds and oranges with their white pulp.
"Grape seeds, though slightly bitter, contain antioxidants," she said.
"Most of phyto-nutrients are found in the peel and the dietary fibre found in inner white pulp of the oranges rather than in their juice. This beneficial part, unfortunately, is too often removed when making juice from oranges."
CHERRY SEASON ISN'T OVER
When selecting cherries, Hu suggests looking for fresh, firm, plump ones with green stems. Avoid cherries that are soft or contain brown spots. The shelf life of cherries is probably about one week.
``The skin of red cherries is dark so it's hard to tell when they are bruised,'' he said.
The ideal way to store cherries, according to him, is probably to keep them in refrigerator at 0C. Cherries taste very good when frozen.
``Well, we usually don't keep our fridge at a temperature of 0C. Just wash and then refrigerate them immediately. Keep them loose in a container as they are easily bruised,'' he said.
``The weather in Thailand is very hot and humid that can soften cherries quickly. And when they are soft, they don't taste as good.
``I personally like my cherries to sit in the fridge for two to three days.
They shrink a little bit but taste sweeter even when the stem becomes ugly.
``Frozen red cherries taste like sorbet. They have completely different textures, frozen and unfrozen. Don't freeze the yellow ones as they taste horrible. They don't taste like cherries any more,'' he said.
The best way to enjoy cherries is to eat them fresh but they are seasonal fruit. To best enjoy them when out of season, consider freezing the cherries. One way to pack them is to freeze whole with stems.Pack into freezer-proof containers or plastic freezer bags; remove excess air, then cover or fasten tightly and freeze.
Another way is to freeze with a dry sugar pack. Add cup sugar for each pint of pitted or unpitted fresh sweet cherries; toss lightly to coat cherries. Fill freezer containers or bags; shake to pack fruit. Add more cherries to fill containers or bags. Cover tightly and freeze.
SWEET CHERRY BLONDIES
Mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Put the mixture in electric mixer at low speed until well blended, then one minute on medium speed so that the batter will be thick.
Spread half the batter in an oiled and floured 23cm baking pan. Toss cherries in a small amount of flour. Scatter cherries over batter; spread remaining batter over cherries. Sprinkle pecans over top.
Bake at 160C for 30 to 35 minutes. Then cut into 16 servings.
Chocolate chip variation: sprinkle cup of chocolate chips over batter with pecans.
Nutritional value per serving: 207kcal, 2.2g protein, 28.2g carbohydrate, 9.9g fat (42% calories from fat), 27mg cholesterol, 0.6g dietary fibre, 88mg sodium.
Courtesy of Northwest Cherries
About the author
- Writer: Sukhumaporn Laiyok