Cherries are prehistoric fruits, originating throughout West and North Africa, Europe and parts of Turkey. In caves of Europe, archaeologists discovered cherry pits dating from 4,000-5,000 BC. The popularity of the fruit was sustained long after the cave man days: Ancient Chinese royalty, Roman warriors and the first Greek politicians comprised but a handful of the fruit’s fan base.
According to the book, “Mughal Gardens,” sweet cherries very likely came to India by way of the Middle East during Emperor Akbar’s reign from 1556 to 1605. Akbar’s governor, Muhammad Quli Afshar, brought strains of apricots and cherries from Kabul to Kashmir. From there, royalty developed varieties purported to be even sweeter than Kabul’s. Afghanistan is also responsible for introducing grapes and several melon varieties to Kashmir’s soils.
Today, cherries are cultivated all over the world, with India ranking as the 26th in world production. Turkey, US, and Iran are the top 3 growers of the fruit, respectively.
|Cherries of Kashmir|
Availability of Cherries in India:
Cherries require high altitudes and colder climates to grow. Not surprisingly, then, that the fruits thrive in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. As of 2014, Kashmir dedicates the most land to cherry production. The Shimla region of Himachal Pradesh has taken interest in cherry harvesting as well. India’s three cherry growing states cultivate several varieties, in colors ranging from yellowish-pink to dark red.
According to figures from 2011, India produces roughly 13,400 tonnes of the fruit, which accounts for a mere .6 of one percent of the world’s output. However, cherry’s popularity is on the up-tick, and so too is the country’s production. Because India’s busy apple season does not compete with cherry season, farmers show greater willingness to give cherry harvesting a shot.
Where to find Cherries in India:
In the North, cherries appear in shops of all sizes during the late fall and early winter months, and again during mid-May. When in season, a few varieties trickle down south, and most vendors of mid to large-sized produce shops sell them. They are, however, one of the pricier fruits.
Do not expect to find quality cherries throughout most of India, particularly in the south. Any reports of big, sweet, luscious cherries are anecdotal and limited to the few regions in the north. Most of India’s cherries are small, bright, hard, and tart. They are seldom the big, deep, dark red fruits; nor are they the sweet, large, golden Ranier cherries. Bing, a delicious variety popular in the US, tends to split and develop canker on India’s colder soils.
Checking for Ripeness in Cherries:
The variety of cherries is such that it’s recommended to taste a fruit before buying them. The skin should be round, glossy, and free of dark blemishes and mold spots. Most sweet cherries give slightly to the touch, whereas unripe fruits have a taut skin that binds the flesh and gives very little.
India’s farmers are advised to use a refractometer, which is a sugar-measuring tool. If the cherries have a soluble solids (sugar) level below 14 percent, then most customers will find the fruits unpalatable.
Taste of Cherry:
India’s cherries—particularly golden red varieties—are tart and sour with only a hint of sweetness. Deep red cherries have a milder, less acidic taste than their yellow counterparts. Cherry’s ratio of sour to sweet varies between cultivars. Taste is also affected by rainfall and humidity: If both of these are high before the season, the taste is not as sweet and the fruits become susceptible to brown rot.
Cherry’s flesh is juicy and pungent, with the texture resembling a grape’s.
All fruits have a hard stone in the center that requires removal.
Nutritional Value of Cherries:
According to the USDA nutrient database, the nutritional value of cherries per 100g of edible fruit is:
16g carb (12% RDI)
2.1g Fiber (8% RDI)
0% RDI of fat
2% RDI of omega 3-fatty acids
1.16 protein (2% RDI)
2% RDI Thiamine/B1
3% RDI Riboflavin/B2
4% RDI Pantothenic Acid/B5
4% RDI B6/Pyridoxine
7 mg Vitamin C (9% RDI)
2.1ug of Vitamin K (2% RDI)
13mg of Calcium (1% RDI)
.1mg of Copper (7% RDI)
.4mg of Iron (2% RDI)
11mg of Magnesium (4% RDI)
.1mg of Manganese (4% RDI)
21mg of Phosphorous (3% RDI)
222mg of Potassium (5% RDI)
Health Benefits of Cherries:
Cherries provide countless health benefits, in part because of their high antioxidants and flavonoids. While the fruits are packed with important nutrients, be mindful of their strong diuretic properties as well.
-- A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology isolated 11 such phenolic compounds in sweet cherry cultivars. The antioxidants in cherries fight free radicals, and thereby reduce the risk of cancer, slow signs of ageing and ward off heart disease.
--Externally applied, cherries moistens, tightens and smoothens the skin
--The high potassium and low sodium in cherries work to stabilize blood pressure
--A 1950 study published in Texas Reports on Biology and Medicine found that patients who consumed cherries noticed uric acid levels stabilized and alleviated problems of gout and arthritis
--The anthocyanins inhibit LDL cholesterol oxidation, which prevents heart problems and strengthens capillaries. In fact, the U-M Cardioprotection Research Laboratory found in 2013 that eating cherries replicate cardiovascular benefits of medication while also reducing the risk of stroke.*
--According to Oregon Health and Science University researcher, cherries are great for athletes on account of their pain-reducing and muscle-building anti-inflammatory properties.
--Cherries help diabetic patients control blood glucose levels. A 2004 study published by the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that cherry anthocyanins boosted insulin production by 50 percent.
--Portuguese researchers found that cherries have the potential to protect the body from cancer cell growth of the colon and stomach.
--According to 1999 a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Natural Products, tart cherries have the same efficacy at inhibiting certain enzymes as ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs. One of the study’s head doctors, Dr. Nair, explains eating just 20 cherries may yield such pain-relieving benefits.
--Cherries also assist with weight loss: one 2008 study conducted by the U-M Cardioprotection Research Lab showed that the mice that consumed tart cherry powder before high-fat meals did not put on the same weight as mice consuming a similar diet sans cherry powder. The blood of the cherry-consuming mice was also less inclined to develop heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol.*
*Note: The Cherry Marketing Institute, a trade union for the US cherry industry, funded these experiments. However, CMI purports to have no influence on the design, conduct or analysis of the experiment’s outcomes.
How to open/cut:
If for commercial purposes, cherries are mechanically separated from its pit via machine. People open cherries most often by biting the whole fruit and spitting the pit. The small size of the fruit relative to the pit makes manually removing the flesh quite laborious.
One clever method of de-pitting a cherry to use a paperclip: stab the rounded hook of the paperclip through the cherry’s stem end, and then rotate it as a way of loosening the pit. Then, “hook” the pit and pull it out. The cherry should remain in one piece.
A second method is to use a straw to poke a hole through the stem end. Push the straw until it comes in contact with the pit, and the spear the pit out the other side of the cherry. This technique loses more juice, and is also messier than using a paperclip.
Cherries spoil quickly in heat and humidity. Store the fruits in the refrigerator’s crisper, where they’ll keep for a week. Because cherries are delicate and bruise easily, loosely pack the fruits in no more than two or three layers. Do not remove the stems, as this will encourage mold and spoilage, and only wash cherries directly before consumption.
Cherries last for a year in the freezer: Simply de-pit and chop the fruits in halves. Consider adding ½ cup of sugar to every quart of cherries to keep the fruits sweet.
Cherry Recipe Ideas:
--To make cherry juice, simmer the de-pitted fruits in a shallow pan with water and sugar. Pulverizing with a potato masher or hand blender, and then strain through cheesecloth or a fine sieve once cooled.
-Create a cherry reduction sauce: bring 2 cups of red wine, 1 ½ cups of sugar, and 1 cup of dried cherries or 3 cups of fresh cherries to a boil. Decrease to a simmer, and then wait for the mix to reduce to a third of the original amount. Set to cool, then transfer to a jar to the refrigerator. Use this reduction sauce atop tofu marinades, ice creams, salads and desserts.
--Add cherries to salads: De-pitted, cherries pair well with walnuts, almonds, grapes, apricots, apples, spinach, kale, arugula, rocket, and red lettuce. Use light vinaigrette instead of a heavy dressing.
--Cherries are a lovely addition to biryanis, Middle Eastern couscous, and even stuffed mushroom or stuffed pumpkin meals. The tanginess of the cherry counterbalances earthy flavors found in the vegetables and grains.
--Use cherries as the base of beverages such as cherry limeade and cherry sparking soda. Or make a cherry martini as a delectable upscale drink.
--Fresh cherries make a bright, lovely base for tarts and pies.
--Add dried cherries to muffins and sweet breads: they work well as a raisin or cranberry substitute. Cherries also make a nice addition to chocolate cake or brownie recipes.
--Create cherry compote to enjoy the short seasoned fruits year-round: because cherry season is so short, a great way to preserve them for use year-round is through canning. Boil 1kg in 300 ml of water, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until soft. Add ½ cup of sugar, pectin, and lemon juice, stirring until dissolved. Cook for an additional 15 minutes until the batch is syrupy. Set aside to cool once the mix has thickened, and then transfer to a jar. Place the compote atop pancakes, waffles, crepes, laddus, and rasmalai.
Fruits: Apricot, peach, nectarine, strawberry, plum, fig, grape, pomegranate, raspberry, blueberry, currant, barberry, goji berry, cactus pear, date, date plum, downy myrtle, jamberry, jamun, loquat, mangosteen, Mysore raspberry, mulberry, phalsa, Surinam cherry, watermelon
Vegetables: spinach, lamb’s quarter, agathi, mushroom, beetroot, tomato, chickpea
Herbs, Spices, and Oil: Red wine, brandy, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, saffron, anise, vanilla, chocolate, maple syrup, molasses, barbeque sauce, cumin, tamarind paste, hazelnut, pecan, walnut, almond extract, thyme, bay leaf, fenugreek, black olive, balsamic vinegar
Himachal Pradesh grows a variety called “Black Republican,” which one might believe is a myth in horticulture as it is in politics.
India exports a small quantity of cherries to Bangladesh, Kenya, and Nepal. Its total export value in 2011-2012 was a mere 11 lakh.
Cerasus cerasoides (Himalayan cherry)
Peach (Prunus persica)
Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)
Plum (Prunus domestica)