Tuesday, January 29, 2013

All About Nanking Cherry

Origin of Nanking Cherry
According to a publication from North Dakota State University, this drupe is native not only to China and Japan, but also India’s Himalayan region of Kashmir. As early as 1837, botanist James Burnett wrote of Ladakh’s Nanking cherries in the “Magazine of Botany and Gardening, British and Foreign.” 

Around 1775, knowledge of the fruit spread to Europe on account of Carl Peter Thunberg’s writings, and over a century later in 1892, appeared in the US’s Arnold Arboretum. Today, several varieties exist throughout Europe, Russia, and the Midwest of the US.

Availability of Nanking Cherry in India
Nanking cherry is not nearly as popular as its close, commercially produced cousin, Prunus avium, but both grow alongside each other in India.

Nanking cherries are exceptionally diverse. As a result of receiving so little attention, the fruits have no standardized taste, and they have evolved to withstand cold snaps and spring’s frost with ease. 

These small red fruits come into season during May and June, sometimes lasting through July. Their arrival is heralded with gorgeous small pink blossoms lining the tree branches in the prior month. 

Where to find Nanking Cherry in India
Because these fruits are not commercially cultivated, they are not the easiest to find in markets. Too often, these cherries are passed up for other sweeter types.

The best bet of finding Nanking cherries is to look for them in the wild, Northern Himalayan regions. These fruits stay hidden along slopes and ravines, thickets, meadows and the forests at elevations between 1700 to 2400 meters. One way to spot the cherry is to pay attention to the branch: while other cherries hang by stems, Nanking cherries cluster closer to the branch.

Nanking cherry shrubs tend not to grow larger than 6 feet or so, which provides easy access for foragers.

Checking for Ripeness in Nanking Cherry

Nanking cherries are cheerfully bright red when ripe. Their flesh will remain taut and their shape perfectly round. Avoid soft, mushy fruits that leak juice from the stem. Because the flavor of Nanking cherries varies between shrubs, sample a fruit before buying or plucking a bag of them.

Taste of Nanking Cherry
Identifying Nanking cherry’s flavor is impossible on account of its diversity. Some Nanking cherries taste slightly sweet; others are mouth-puckeringly sour. The best expectation for these cherries is a mix of the two. They are truly wild fruits bursting with nutritive value.

The flesh of a Nanking cherry is “tighter” than popular Prunus avium varieties like bing cherries, but they share these fruit’s juiciness.

*Note: the charity organization, Plants for a Future, warn against consuming the seed. Like other stone fruits in the genus—including apricot and peach—the seeds produce minute quantities of the poison, hydrogen cyanide.  

Nutritional Value of Nanking Cherry
Though there’s little nutrition data for Nanking cherry, the nutritive profile for the generic fruit “cherry” per 100g of edible fruit is as follows:

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 Nanking Cherry
The health benefits of Nanking cherries are nearly identical to those of Prunus avium.

Nanking cherries have several health-boosting compounds:
--According a 2008 study published in Archives of Pharmaceutical Research, kaemferol—a flavonoid found in the seed of Nanking cherries—illustrated an anti-atherosclerotic effect when tested in rabbits, and may be beneficial in the treatment of heart diseases.
--As per a study published in the 2013 edition of the American Diabetics Association’s journal, Diabetes, kaemferol may help manage metabolism related diseases based on its ability to increase cellular energy expenditure and regulate thyroid hormones.
--A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Urology found that kaemferol attenuated bladder hyperactivity when tested in rats.

*Note: Like apricots, Nanking cherry pits also contain the anti-cancer compound, laetrile.

For additional benefits, see also “cherry.”

How to Open/Cut:
Use caution when eating cherries out of hand, as they contain a hard pit in the center. To remove this pit, use one of the methods further outlined in the “cherry” section: Extricate the pit by using a paperclip’s “hook” to lift it out, or use a straw to spear the pit through the fruit.

Wrap cherries in a plastic bag and refrigerate as soon as possible—at room temperature, the fruit rapidly deteriorates. To avoid spoilage, wash before consuming: they should remain dry to prevent molding at the stem end. In the fridge, the fruits can withstand moderate humidity.

Freeze cherries by first laying them out on a baker’s sheet, and then setting them in the freezer. Once solid, remove the cherries, place in a plastic bag and stick back in the freezer. They will keep for up to a year.

Nanking Cherry Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Nanking cherries are best sweetened before consuming. Traditionally, they’ve been used to make wine and juice. Any recipe calling for sour cherries will suffice for this tart fruit.
--Make Nanking cherry jam by simmering 3 cups of the fruit with ½ cup of water for 20 minutes. Mash the fruit, press the juice, and strain. Place the pulp back in the saucepan and add ½ cup of pectin, letting the concoction boil. Once the pectin has dissolved, stir 2 cups of sugar and boil for a minute, stirring frequently. Transfer the contents into a sterile jar, and let sit until cool.
--Add the jam to muffins, pancakes, crepes, and alongside marinated tofu.
--For a savory sauce, reduce cherries, water and sugar on the stovetop until thick and syrupy. Add onion powder, garlic, salt, pepper, mustard, vinegar, and maple syrup until a thick consistency is achieved.
--Dry the fruits and use in rice dishes, salads, and granola mix.

--Use the fruit as a base for salad dressing: blend a cup of cherries with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

Nanking jam from

Flavor Combinations:
Apricot, cactus pear, chitra, date, date plum, downy myrtle, fig, grape, jamberry, jamun, loquat, mangosteen, Mysore raspberry, Nanking cherry, mulberry, phalsa, plum, pomegranate, Surinam cherry, strawberry

Herbs, Spices, and Oil: White wine, sugar, orange juice and zest, lemon juice and zest, cranberry juice, ginger, clove, anise, vanilla, maple syrup, almond extract, vinegar, tamarind paste

Random Facts:
Another name of the Nanking cherry is “downy cherry,” on account of the fruit’s fine hairs growing on its exterior.

Scientific Name:
Prunus tomentosa

Other Names:
Manchu cherry
Mountain cherry
Tomentosa cherry

Related Fruits:

Peach, cherry, apricot, plum and almond

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