Full of fragrance and sweet, golden-orange apricots are another summer season delicacies of Asian origin. These much-prized fruits were first brought to the Europe by Greeks, who named them as “golden eggs of the sun."
Botanically, the fruit is closely related to peaches and nectarine; sharing with them in the broader Rosaceae family of fruit-trees in the genus; Prunus. Scientific name: Prunus armenia. Today, some of the chief producing regions of this fruit are Turkey, Iran, Italy, France, Spain, Syria, Greece, and China.
|Fresh apricots (Prunus armeniaca).||Fresh fruits in a basket. Note for bright golden-yellow color fruits.|
Apricot is a medium sized deciduous tree that grows best in well-drained mountainous slope soils. During the spring, it bears plenty of beautiful pinkish-white flowers that attract bees. The fruits have almost uniform size, 4-5 cm in diameter, and weigh about 35 g. In structure; the fruit is a drupe, consisting of a centrally located single pit surrounded by crunchy, aromatic edible flesh. The seed is enclosed in a hard stony shell, often called as "stone."
|Delicious dried apricots.|
Fresh, ripe apricots have a sweet flavor similar to plums. Sun dried organic apricots fruits are nutritiously denser than fresh ones, although they have less in vitamin-C content. Its seed-kernel is also edible and taste like that of almonds. Oil extracted from these kernels has been used in cooking.
Fresh fruits are low in calories, composing just 50 calories per 100 g weight. Nonetheless, they are rich source of dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The fruits are enriched with numerous health promoting phyto-chemicals; that helps prevent heart disease, reduce LDL, ("bad cholesterol") levels and offer protection against cancers.
Apricots are excellent sources of vitamin-A, and carotenes. 100 g fresh fruits carry 1926 IU or 64% of daily-required levels of vitamin A. Both of these compounds are known to have antioxidant properties and are essential for vision. Vitamin-A is also required for maintaining healthy mucusa and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in carotenes helps protect the body from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Fresh fruits contain vitamin-C, another natural anti-oxidant. Vitamin-C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.
They are an also good source of minerals such as potassium, iron, zinc, calcium and manganese. Potassium is a heart-healthy mineral; an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
The total anti-oxidant or ORAC value of raw apricots is 1115 umol TE/100 g. Much of this in these fruits comes from some important health promoting flavonoid poly phenolic anti-oxidants such as lutein, zea xanthin and beta cryptoxanthin. Altogether, these compounds act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging, cancers and various disease process.
Further, zea-xanthin, a carotenoid selectively absorbed into the retinal "macula lutea" in the eyes where it is thought to provide anti-oxidant and protective light-filtering functions. Thus, consumption of fruits like apricots rich in zea-xanthin helps eyes protect from age-related macular disease (AMRD), especially in the elderly people.
Apricot season lasts from May until September. Buy fresh, well ripe fruits that feature uniform golden-orange color and rich aroma.
Avoid those with pale yellow color as they were picked too soon. Ripened apricots are delicate and should be handled with care.
Store them inside the refrigerator in an egg tray set at high relative humidity. Use them as early as possible.
Sundried apricots are equally popular as fresh fruit and can be easily obtained in the markets worldwide.
Wash fresh fruits gently in cold water and pat dry in soft cloth. Ripe ones can be eaten as a whole including skin to get the maximum benefits.
Sliced sections of the fruit can be a great addition to salads.
They are also used jam, marmalade, syrup, and jelly preparation.
In order to extend their shelf-life, dried apricots are often treated with sulfites which prevents oxidation and bleachs colors. This is as in the case of other dried fruits like raisins, figs, etc. However, sulfite treated bright orange-colored fruits can be a cause of acute bronchospasm in sensitized people who are suffering from asthma episodes. Therefore, sulfite sensitive persons can instead safely use unsulfured dry fruits that have brown color. (Medical disclaimer).
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