Why We Love Apricots
These beautiful orange colored fruits are chock full of beta-carotene which makes them an important heart health food; the beta-carotene helps protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which may in turn help to prevent heart disease. Apricots contain vitamin B2, potassium, and magnesium aiding in metabolism and keeping bones strong and heart rhythm steady. Apricots also provide important flavonoid phytonutrients that have potent anti-inflammatory benefits. They contain iron and copper which are important for maintaining healthy blood and helping to prevent iron deficiency.
How to Shop for Apricots
If purchasing in the U.S., apricots can be found in season between June and July. Choose apricots later in the harvest, which will contain 75% more antioxidants than those picked earlier in the season in May. Apricots are sensitive to pesticides, and being similar to peaches which are #5 on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, be sure to choose organic when possible. Choose ripe apricots that are plump, firm and are uniformly orange-yellow in color. Avoid pale, yellow or green colored apricots. Their skin should feel firm and slightly soft, but not mushy. A ripe apricot will provide a rich aroma and be pleasantly sweet. TIP: An apricots’ rich citrus fragrance will correlate with how juicy and flavorful your apricot will be!
When shopping for dried apricots, it is important to note those sold in most grocery stores, often are treated with sulfur dioxide gas and sulfites to extend their shelf life. These compounds are used as preservatives to help prevent oxidation and the apricots from turning brown. If you are sensitive to sulfites or are looking to limit your sulfite exposure, choose organic, unsulfured options for both fresh or dried apricots.
How to Store Apricots
Apricots bruise easily so handle them with care in transport back to your kitchen. Store fresh apricots in the refrigerator for up to five days. If you choose an under-ripe apricot, you can soften it up by leaving it out at root temperature, but be aware that it won’t get any sweeter. TIP: Apricots release ethylene gas, which can spoil other produce nearby. Store apricots away from foods such as broccoli, carrots, leafy greens, pears, peppers, and sweet potatoes. If purchasing dried apricots (or drying your own), you can keep these for 6-12 months at room temperature.
To freeze fresh apricots, select firm ripe apricots. Wash, pit, (peel if desired) and slice. There are a few ways to freeze your apricots with or without sugar listed here. Freeze your apricots in a sealed tight container for up to 6 months.
How to Prepare Apricots
Apricots can be enjoyed in all sorts of ways – juiced, blended, dried, raw in salads, as a power snack, or a cooked into a delicious meal.
Juice: Wash apricots well and slice in half to remove the pit. Add through juicer chute at a low speed. Apricots don’t produce too much juice, so always have extra on hand. If you’re using frozen apricots, they will need to be thawed before going through the juicer.
Blend: Frozen apricots are an excellent addition to a smoothie to add thickness and give a sweet and cold finish.
Raw: Fresh, raw apricots are an excellent snack, a great addition to a summer salad, or can be served on warm oatmeal for breakfast.
Cooked: Try adding fresh or dried apricots for a sweeter flavor to a slow cooked dinner for a taste of North African cuisine.
Dried: Try adding dried apricots in these delicious granola bars for a power snack, or topped over quinoa for a meal or side dish. Most dried apricots are treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve their orange color. However if you are sulfite sensitive, or going for a chemical-free alternative, you can dry apricots at home in a food dehydrator. Keep in mind the faster the drying process the more nutrients will be retained!
Cooked, Raw, or Frozen? How to Get the Most out of Apricots
Fresh, ripe apricots will provide the most nutrients when they are picked and eaten at their peak season. Although fresh is best, surprisingly, in the United States dried apricots are eaten three times more than fresh. Apricots and other dried fruits like raisins, figs, and dried plums provide rich sources of dietary fiber and iron, however the drying process may destroy some important nutrients. The longer a fruit takes to dry, the less nutrient dense it becomes. To retain the most nutrients, look for “tunnel dried” or “hot air dried” which are speedier air drying processes. Since dried fruit is energy dense and more concentrated in sugar, it is important to monitor portion control so that you don’t go overboard on these sweet bundles!
As for frozen apricots, if you are freezing in their peak season between June and July, their nutritional benefits may be better than fresh varieties sold in off-season months! Flash freezing, helps to retain the nutrients and antioxidants, so when ripe varieties are not available choose frozen or dried.
No matter the form required, apricots can provide wonderful nutritional benefits whether fresh, frozen, cooked or dried.