Apricots are those beautifully orange colored fruits full of beta-carotene and fiber that are one of the first signs of summer. Although dried and canned apricots are available year-round, fresh apricots with a plentiful supply of vitamin C.
Relatives to peaches, apricots are small, golden orange fruits, with velvety skin and flesh, not too juicy but definitely smooth and sweet. Some describe their flavor as almost musky, with a faint tartness that lies somewhere between a peach and a plum.
Apricots’ Protection Against Free Radical Damage
Apricots contain a number of potent antioxidants. We rank the apricot as a good source of both vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and vitamin C. The health benefits associated with each are multiple and well-documented.
Apricots are rich in other antioxidants, too, including polyphenolic antioxidants like flavonoids. Diets rich in flavonoids and the other types of polyphenols found in apricots have been linked to reductions in heart disease in humans, as well as other potential health benefits.
Antioxidants are responsible for some of the specific effects listed below, but those only scratch the surface of the potential health benefits of diets rich in these important nutrients. Here are a few of the important antioxidant nutrients or nutrient groups found in apricots:
- Gallic acid
- Caffeic acid
- Coumaric acid
- Ferulic acid
Apricots May Protect Your Eyesight
Apricots are rich in the carotenoids and xanthophylls, nutrients that researchers believe may help protect eyesight from aging-related damage To give an example of how this works, one of these nutrients (lutein) appears to be able to protect the retina—the part of the eye that picks up the visual image from the environment—from damage caused by blue light.
Additionally, researchers have linked regular intake of fruit with less risk of vision loss with aging. This benefit is found in people who eat three or more servings of fruit each day.
Three servings of fruit may sound like a lot to eat each day, but by simply snacking on an apricot, tossing a banana into your morning smoothie, and topping off a cup of yogurt or green salad with one-half cup of berries, you’ve reached this goal.
Apricots May Protect Against Inflammation
Apricots are a strong dietary source of catechins, a broad family of flavonoid phytonutrients (you may be familiar with these phytonutrients since they are often cited for the benefits provided by green tea). A single apricot will provide you with 4-5 grams from catechins. These phytonutrients are potent anti-inflammatory nutrients and researchers have looked extensively at their health effects. Researchers have discovered that catechins can inhibit the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), one of the critical steps in the process of inflammation.
Much of this research on catechin benefits involves animal rather than human studies. But we have seen human research where diets rich in catechins—not specifically from apricots but from other catechin-rich foods like tea or cocoa—have led to significant beneficial changes. For instance, multiple studies have shown that catechin-rich foods can protect blood vessels from inflammation-related damage, leading to better blood pressure control.
Other Health Benefits of Apricots
Apricots are a good source of dietary fiber. This overall fiber content should be helpful for most people in supporting digestive health. Within the total dietary fiber provided by apricots, about half consists of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is one type of fiber that can help to control blood cholesterol levels.
Apricots are small, golden orange fruits, with velvety skin and flesh: not too juicy but definitely smooth and sweet. Their flavor is almost musky, with a faint tartness that is more pronounced when the fruit is dried. Some people think of the flavor as being somewhere between a peach and a plum, fruits to which they’re closely related.
Apricots are originally from China but arrived in Europe via Armenia, which is why the scientific name is Prunus armenaica. The apricot tree came to Virginia in 1720 but its appearance in the Spanish missions of California around 1792 marked the fruit’s real arrival. The climate there is perfectly suited to apricot culture, and apricots in the United States are grown primarily in the sunny orchards of California.
Apricots are enjoyed as a fresh fruit but also dried, cooked into pastry, and eaten as jam. The fruits are also distilled into brandy and liqueur. Essential oil from the pits is sold commercially as bitter almond oil. Turkey, Italy, Russia, Spain, Greece, U.S.A. and France are the leading producers of apricots.
How to Select and Store
Apricot season in the U.S. runs from May through August. In the winter, apricots are imported from South America. Look for fruits with a rich orange color while avoiding those that are pale and yellow. Fruits should be slightly soft. If they are too firm they have not been tree-ripened, and tree-ripened fruits always taste best. For the most antioxidants, choose fully ripened fruit.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and apricots are no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including apricots. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells watermelon but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown apricots is very likely to be apricots that display the USDA organic logo.
How to Enjoy
A few quick serving ideas:
- Add sliced apricots to hot or cold cereal.
- The next time you make whole grain pancakes add some chopped apricots to the batter.
- Give a Middle Eastern flavor to chicken or vegetable stews with the addition of dried, diced apricots.
- Serve fresh apricots in your green salad when they are in season.