The apricot is a round, small golden fruit with a velvety flesh and skin. Technically, the apricot is called "drupe," a fleshy, one-seeded fruit containing a seed enclosed in a stony pit. Other foods in the same family are the peach, plum, cherry and almond. Apricots can help prevent heart disease and aid in eye health.
Apricots do not have an abundance of juice and have a unique taste that is often described as somewhere between the flavors of a plum and a peach. This fruit is frequently dried and cooked into pastry or eaten as a jam. Apricots are also distilled into liqueur s and brandies. Essential oils taken from the pits are sold under the name "bitter almond oil."
This fruit is thought to have come originally from China, with records indicating the apricot has been growing there for thousands of years. Some believe Alexander the Great brought the apricot to Greece, where it ultimately spread to Western countries. The first apricot was delivered to North America in 1720 when it was brought to Virginia.
The apricot tree flourished in California when it was introduced there in 1792, and that state remains the major supplier in the U.S. for apricots. Other producers of this fruit are Greece, Spain, France, Italy and the Russian Federation.
Recent studies have identified at least 600 different types of carotenoids, and some of the most powerful are found in apricots. Lycopene is also a strong antioxidant found in this fruit.
This delectable fruit is a good source for consuming carotenes, iron and potassium. Apricots are also a good way to introduce more fiber into the diet, providing about 2 grams of fiber per normal serving. A 100-gram serving (about three apricots) contains 48 calories, 0.4 grams of fat, 11.1 grams of carbohydrates, 1.4 grams of protein, 9.2 grams of natural sugars, 0.4 milligrams of iron and 259 milligrams of potassium.
A 100-gram serving of dried apricot has 7 grams of fiber, 2.7 milligrams of iron and 1,162 milligrams of potassium.
Each apricot contains almost 1,000 IU of vitamin A. The phytonutrients in apricots are lycopene, beta-carotene and quercetin. Some health care professionals are looking at the apricot as a "longevity fruit" because a group of people living at high altitudes in the Himalaya Mountains of Pakistan include apricots in their diets and frequently live to the ripe old age of between 100 and 120. Apricots are a staple of these people and therefore have been taken into consideration as a super fruit.
Apricots are known to fight infections, blindness and heart disease.
It is unusual for carotenes to be found in fruits (as they are in apricots): carotenes are usually the agents giving orange, red and yellow colors to vegetables. One 8-year study discovered the participants with the highest levels of carotene had a one-third lower risk for heart disease.
Apricots also contain a strong antioxidant called beta-cryptoxantin, an agent that appears to reduce the risk for colon and lung cancers. Some studies have also shown this compound to reduce the risk for arthritis by over 40 percent.
Compounds containing sulfur (such as sulfur dioxide) are frequently added to dried fruits to preserve them and to help prevent bleaching of colors and oxidization. These compounds cause allergic reactions in about 1 out of 100 people, and about 1 out of 20 people with asthma.
Apricots also contain moderate amounts of oxalates. Those people who have a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones should limit or avoid consumption of this food.
Selecting and Storing
Apricots are best when picked between June and August. Apricots purchased during the winter months are typically imported from South America. Because apricots bruise so easily when soft, this fruit should be picked while still firm. A ripe apricot is usually round and about two inches in diameter. The color should be consistent and have a golden or orange hue. Apricots not fully ripe will be hard and have a definite yellow tone. Overripe apricots are mushy or soft. This fruit should be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature between 32 and 38 degrees F.
When selecting dried apricots, natural food stores are a much better choice. Dried apricots usually contain high levels of sulfur dioxide, but health-conscious stores carry better alternatives. Dried apricots that do not contain sulfur are preserved using a blanching process and are brown in color.
Serving Ideas for Apricots
Adding apricots to the diet can be quite easy. A few tips include:
- Sliced apricots can be added to cold or hot cereal.
- Toss apricots in salads.
- Add apricots to quick breads and muffins.
- Put chopped apricots in whole-grain pancake batter.
- Barbecue halved apricots brushed with honey on the grill or broil in the oven until brown.
- Holford, P.(2004). The optimum nutrition bible. London : Piatkus
- Holford, P & Lawson, S. (2008). Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health. London : Piatkus
- Murray, M.T. et al.(2005). Encyclopedia of healing foods. London : Piatkus
- Yeager, S. & Prevention Health Books. (1998). The doctors book of food remedies : the newest discoveries in the power of food to cure and prevent health problems from aging and diabetes to ulcers and yeast infections. [Emmaus, Pa.] : Rodale
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