Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
As American as cherry pie! Move aside, apples. A trip to northwest Michigan's cherry country gave me a new appreciation for the taste and health benefits of this delicious red fruit, especially tart cherries.
Also known as sour cherries, tart cherries are the main attraction in the iconic cherry pie. The balance of sweet and tart is the flavor appeal.
"I believe they're the greatest of all fruits," says Bob Sutherland of the Cherry Republic store in Glen Arbor, Mich. There's no escaping Sutherland's enthusiasm for all things made with cherries _ from pie to salsa to barbecue sauce to cherry wine.
The menu at Cherry Republic's Grand Cafe in Glen Arbor adds cherries to everything and includes cherry-studded guacamole and cherry meatloaf.
"These ruby red morsels of joy are versatile in sweet and savory foods," he says. "They are a flavor enhancer because they add umami to dishes."
Cherry capital Michigan produces three-quarters of the U.S. tart cherry crop. The variety grown there is the Montmorency.
Farmer Don Gregory of Cherry Bay Orchards in Traverse City, Mich., says, "Last year's crop was devastated by an early frost, but this year's harvest is abundant." Gregory led a group of food writers into his orchards to show how cherries are carefully harvested. Machines grab the trunk of a tree and shake the cherries onto conveyor belts that lead the delicate fruit to tanks of cool water. Rarely shipped fresh, because the ripe fruit is so soft, tart cherries are frozen, dried or made into cherry juice concentrate.
TART IS SMART
While sweet cherries are nutritious and delicious, the unique health-promoting power of tart cherries is linked to heart health, relief of joint and muscle pain, exercise recovery and even prevention of insomnia.
"The deep red pigment in tart cherries contains antioxidants called anthocyanins. These compounds have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties which studies show can help reduce arthritis and joint pain," says registered dietitian Wendy Bazilian, author of "The Super Foods Rx Diet."
What about insomnia?
Bazilian, who works with the Cherry Marketing Institute, says because tart cherries contain melatonin, research shows that drinking a cup of tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks helps subjects sleep better.
While researchers continue to study emerging health benefits, nutrition facts reveal that tart cherries are higher in vitamin C and vitamin A than sweet cherries and contain 19 times more vitamin A than blueberries or strawberries.
Dietitian Janet Helm, author of the blog Nutrition Unplugged, likes the less-than-sweet taste: "I think American palates are beginning to change. Bolder, more bitter and sourer tastes are trending up. People are demanding foods and drinks that are less sweet. That's a good thing."
(Carolyn O'Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of "The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!" E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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