Cherry: nutrition facts and health benefits

Cherry

Cherry is the fruit of the cherry tree. It’s a small round, juicy and fleshy fruit hanging from a rod, and contains a core. It has a red intense color which varies according to the variety, but cherry can have a yellow color.

Cherry was introduced in North America during the colonization. It is now cultivated in most European countries, in Turkey, Iran, several countries of South America, North America and Japan, where there are many varieties of sakura, which flowering is celebrated.

The story of cherry

Cherries played a important role in human food well before the advent of agriculture. It would seem our Neolithic ancestors made wine cherry before using the grapes.

The two main cultivated species are the sour cherry and bird cherry. They come from Minor Asia, specifically around regions of the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.

Among historians it’s not sure from the Romans or the Greeks Who would have be the first to introduce cherry in Europe. At the beginning of our era, this topic was subject of a long debate which continues to be discussed. Indeed, according to the Romans, at the first century before our era, it would be the general Lucullus army after a famous victory which would have brought back cherry trees from Minor Asia. As the battle had taken place in the city of Cerasus, it gave its name to the plant that symbolized the courage of the Roman troops. But, the Greek do not see it this way and, citing as proof a Greek author text dating back 300 years before Lucullus, and in which included a detailed description of the cherry.

It’s certainly the Romans, who spread the cherry in all the Empire because its fruit is part of the typical diet of legionaries. In the middle ages, this fruit is very popular in England, Germany and France. From the beginning of colonization, it was introduced in North America. Today, it is grown in many countries of Western and Eastern Europe. Cherry grows also in the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Chile, Turkey and Iran.

Sour cherry served to make pies and jams to which sugar is added because of its flavor. However, people recently discovered that this fruit was particularly rich in antioxydants1, resulting in a demand from consumers for buying juice and concentrated juice. They are now available in supermarkets and natural food stores. Note that the sweet cherry is 5 times less rich in antioxidants.

Cherry health profile

The sweet cherry (Bing variety is the best known) is eaten fresh, especially in desserts, salads or sauces. The sour cherry is rather used for the preparation of pies, jams and juice. This variety is especially bought canned, frozen or dried. Five times richer in antioxidants than the sweet cherry, it would prevent cancer and several other diseases.

Health benefits of cherry

Cancer. Two studies showed that a diet enriched with sour cherries or taking anthocyanins supplements extracted from the fruit reduced appearance of intestine tumors among mousses. In addition, anthocyanins intake helped reduce the required dose of Sulindac, a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to destroy cancer cells (high doses of NSAIDs were associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers).

Anthocyanins extracts also slows down in vitro growth of human colon cancer cells. These results indicate that some phenolic compounds of tart cherry could reduce the risk of colon cancer, but clinical studies are needed to confirm these findings. The extract of sweet cherry would also decrease in vitro proliferation of colon and breast cancer cells in proportion to the quantity used.

Inflammatory pain and muscle recovery. Two clinical studies to assess the effectiveness of sour cherry juice to reduce pain and promote muscle recovery during intense exercise (walk race, long distance run for 26 km and 42 km). In the first study, runners consumed 700 ml sour cherry juice per day, for 7 days before the run and the day of the run. The increase in the intensity of muscle pain after the race was significantly lower among participants who had consumed the cherry juice rather than a placebo.

In the other study, marathon runners drank 500 ml of sour cherry juice per day, 5 days before the marathon, the same day, and 2 days after. Markers of inflammation and oxidative stress level were significantly lower in the group which drunk the cherry juice than the placebo group. In addition, participants who used the cherry juice had faster recovery of their muscle strength.

Cardiovascular disease. A study published in 2006 showed among healthy people, the consumption of 280 g of sweet cherries (Bing variety) daily for 28 days had beneficial effects on different anti-inflammatory markers. These markers are risk indicators of cardiovascular disease. Consumption of cherry has however had no effect on the people lipid profile (cholesterol and triglycerides).

Also, a in vitro study showed sweet cherries inhibit the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) oxidation from 70% to 99 %. The oxidation of LDL cholesterol is a cardiovascular risk factor. In this study, it’s worth noting, the sour cherry was not part of the evaluated fruit.

Insomnia. Two small studies have reported a slight improvement in the sleep thanks to the cherry. The most recent study conducted in 2010 was made with 15 people of 65 years and more with insomnia problems. During 2 periods of 14 days, they have consumed on a daily basis either of sour cherry juice, or a placebo. After consuming cherry juice, the number of minutes when a person was awakened after falling asleep has been reduced, but not the time taken to fall asleep or total sleep time.

The other study covered 12 people from 35 to 85 years. For 3 consecutive days, they have consumed 400 g of cherries with high concentrations of melatonin and serotonin. An increase in total sleep time and a reduction in the number of periods of awakening and nocturnal agitation have been noted.

What do cherries contain?

Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins from sour cherry show in vitro anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities. They are the major phenolic compounds of this fruit. Like many of these compounds, found in plants, they have the ability to neutralize free radicals in the body and thus prevent many diseases: cardiovascular disease, various chronic diseases and cancers. These compounds would reduce pain effects and improve muscle recovery with the consumption of cherry. Researchers have also found in the presence of inflammation, their administration to rats reduced their sensitivity to pain, as well as reducing the edema. In addition, anthocyanins could protect nerve cells from damage caused by oxidative stress.

Sweet and sour cherries are both rich in anthocyanins. However, a golden yellow sweet cherry, named the “Rainier” which is particularly appreciated for its crunchy texture, doesn’t contain anthocyanins when it grows out of direct light. However, when it is exposed to light, it takes a light red color and then contains a bit of anthocyanins. The more cherries are colorful; more they will contain beneficial elements for health.

Hydroxycinnamic acids

The sweet cherry contains a relatively high amount of this group of phenolic compounds4. They have demonstrated in vitro antioxidant effects.

Melatonin

High amounts of melatonin have been found in two varieties of cherry tart (Montmorency and Balaton). Melatonin is a compound known for its antioxidant potential. Plants consumption with enough melatonin could provide protection against damage caused by free radicals. Melatonin as a sleep regulator, it could also help to combat insomnia.

Precautions

Cherry is one of the foods that can cause oral allergy syndrome. Consumption of this fruit can cause among people allergic to birch or grasses pollen, mild symptoms such as itching and sneezing, but also asthma, a generalized urticaria or anaphylactic shock. As the protein allergens in question are usually destroyed during cooking, hypersensitive persons may consume cherries when they are cooked.

Selection and conservation

Choose

Fresh cherries should be plump and their skin smooth and shiny. Avoid hard fruit with matte skin. The color of the skin can vary from light to dark red, although there are also yellow skin cherries. Choose fruits having their tails.

Sour cherries they are rarely offered in food stores because it’s difficult to keep them well after they are picked. On the other hand, you can find them frozen, dried and canned. Read the label of these products, including the dried cherries, to make sure they contain no added sugar.

The Maraschino Cherries (which are known under their Italian name of maraschino) have little nutritional value. They are first pitted then immersed in water with sulfur for a few days in order to bleach them. After this process, they are put in a jar with the corn syrup with food coloring, aromas and chemical food conservation. They are then pasteurized.

Keep

Refrigerator. No more than one week, in the vegetable drawer, making sure to keep them away from foods with strong smell. You should take them out 30 minutes before serving and wash them at the last moment to avoid deterioration.

Freezer. Pitted or not, you must dry them after washing and spread them on a plate in the freezer. Then you lock them tightly in a freezer bag.

Organic gardening

If you plant only a single fruit tree in your garden, pick the cherry tree. It combines all the qualities: tasty fruit, a spectacular bloom in spring, many splendid colors in autumn and offers great shading.

Less imposing than the sweet cherry, sour cherry can settle for relatively small spaces, including a yard in the city, as long as it benefits from the sun several hours per day. In addition, unlike its cousin, it is self-fertile, so it’s not necessary to plant more than one specimen to get fruits.

It prefers deep and sandy grounds with a slight slop and oriented North or East. But it can accommodate other types of soil as long as they drip well, because it does not tolerate standing in water. You must protect it against winds from West and North with shelterbelts. Spacing varies with cultivars, but it is generally recommended to plant shrubs to 6 or 8 m from each other. Sow a green manure from a clover base between the rows, keeping exposed a circle of approximately 1 m in diameter around the trunk, which you will add straws to prevent the growth of weeds.

In case of a drought, irrigate, especially during the early years, when roots are still underdeveloped. Protect the harvest against the birds with nets designed for this purpose.

You should be able to harvest the first fruits 3 years after planting. They are harvested one by one, while large farms shake the young trees to make them fall. They will have more sugar if you let them mature for a longer time on the tree.

Ecology and environment

In Europe, culture of organic cherry remains very problematic, given the humid temperatures prevailing in the producing regions. The moniliose, including, a fungal disease of humid climates, is very difficult to prevent or eradicate.

Various approaches are proposed for this disease: carving and sterilization tools, eliminating residues at the foot of trees (dead leaves, rotten fruit and carve branches), protection by forest cover or covering the trees with a transparent plastic a few weeks before the harvest, application of manure compost or powders made from clay on the trunk, branches and leaves. However, losses due to the disease remain relatively high, except for the sour cherry tree which seems to be less sensitive.

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