Apricots 101 – The Basics
Apricots are small, golden orange fruits with smooth, sweet flesh. Their flavor is barely musky with a faint tartness. The tartness is more pronounced in dried apricots than in fresh. Their flavor has been described as being in between that of a peach and plum.
Apricots appear to have originated in China and were first cultivated there before 2,000 B.C. (some resources say as early as 4,000 B.C). They were transported through Armenia and into Europe. In the 1700’s, Spanish explorers carried apricots to America. They were then carried to California, where the climate is well-suited for their culture. Today, apricots that are grown in the United States are found primarily in orchards of California.
Apricots are enjoyed fresh, dried, simmered into jams and preserves, and added to both sweet and savory dishes. Apricots are also distilled into brandy and liqueur, and used for the essential oil extracted from their pits, which is sold as bitter almond oil. Today, the leading producers of apricots are Turkey, Italy, Russia, Spain, Greece, the United States, and France. Since fresh apricots do not travel well, most are dried, making them available year-round.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Apricots are known for being rich in Vitamin A (in the form of various carotenoids, including lycopene). They are also high in Vitamin C, copper, fiber, potassium, manganese, all of the B-Vitamins, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and iron. Two fresh apricots provide all of 34 calories, so they are certainly a low-calorie food.
Antioxidant Protection. Apricots are rich in a variety of antioxidants including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, quercetin, a variety of flavonoids and polyphenols, and others that have been linked to many health benefits ranging from protection against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune conditions, and skin and eye diseases, among others.
Protection from Heart Disease. Since apricots are a rich source of antioxidants, fiber and potassium, they are known to help ward off heart disease. Antioxidants are known for fighting harmful free radical molecules in the body that damage cells leading to disease. The fiber in apricots helps to keep cholesterol levels in check. The ample potassium in apricots helps to balance the electrolyte system, keeping fluids balanced and the heart working (along with other muscles) as it should. Also, the potassium in apricots helps to keep our blood pressure reduced by relaxing blood vessels. Apricots are small, but mighty fruits when it comes to disease prevention!
Anti-Inflammatory Properties. Apricots are an excellent source of catechins, a family of flavonoids that is often prized as being found in green tea. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods (www.whfoods.com) one apricot provides as much as 4 to 5 grams of catechins. These compounds are strong anti-inflammatory agents and have been the subject of many research projects. Researchers have found that catechins can inhibit the activity of the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme, which controls one of the critical steps in the inflammation process. Diets rich in catechins have been found to provide significant protection from blood vessel inflammation-related damage. This protection leads to better blood pressure control, which in turn, helps to lower the risk of heart disease.
Eyesight Protection. Apricots are rich in carotenoids and xanthophylls that have been found to help protect eyesight from age-related damage. One of those compounds, lutein, appears to help protect the retina from damage caused by blue light. Apricots are known to help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Researchers have found that people who eat at least three servings of fruit each day have less risk of vision loss as they age. This includes not only apricots, but other fruits such as berries, cantaloupe, kiwi, grapes, oranges, peaches, and others.
Skin Health. Antioxidants are known for helping to protect the health of our skin, guarding us from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, reducing wrinkles, and improving the skin’s elasticity. Also, fresh apricots contain a lot of water, helping to hydrate the skin.
With all things considered, it’s worth including apricots in your diet whenever you can, in any form available to you…fresh, frozen, dried, or canned.
How to Select Apricots
Fresh Apricots. Fresh ripe apricots are very perishable and do not travel well. So, whenever they are found fresh in your local market, consider it to be a “gold mine” and grab some while you can. Fresh apricots in the United States are in season from June through August. Fresh apricots found during other times of year are imported from South America.
When shopping for fresh apricots, choose those with a rich orange color. They should be slightly soft, which means they are ripe. Those that are very firm have not been allowed to ripen long enough on the tree, and will not taste as good as those that were allowed to further ripen on the tree. Harvested apricots will ripen and age, but their flavor and sweetness will stay at the level it was when picked from the tree.
Avoid fresh apricots that are rock hard, pale yellow or have any tinge of green, which indicates that they were picked extremely early. Also avoid any that are shriveled, or very soft, since they will be old and past their prime.
Dried Apricots. Dried apricots were a major commodity during ancient times and were very important along the “Silk Road.” Today, drying apricots allows them to be transported around the world with year-round availability.
Larger apricots are dried in halves, whereas smaller apricots are dried whole. All should have had their pits removed. Dried apricots usually do not have added sugars, but are most often treated with sulfur dioxide, a type of sulfite, to preserve color, texture, and extend shelf life. This presents problems for people who are sensitive to added sulfite ingredients. Such individuals should be very careful and always read labels for any foods they buy, especially dried fruits.
Dried apricots may be found that were not treated with sulfur dioxide. They are only rarely found in grocery stores, but may be purchased through the internet. These will be darker in color and coarser in texture. The flavor may also change over time. So, if you prefer to eat unsulfured dried apricots, be sure to use them relatively quickly for the best quality. Researchers have found that they will keep for up to 6 months, but their quality and nutritional value may decline through time.
Canned Apricots. Apricots to be canned are usually left on the trees to fully ripen before being harvested. Because of that, they will often have a richer flavor than those sold fresh in markets. The loss of nutrients is relatively small during the canning process, so consider canned apricots to be a good choice in that respect. Optimally, choose ones that were packed in water or juice, without added sugars or artificial sweeteners.
How to Store Apricots
Fresh Apricots. Apricots will continue to ripen after being harvested. If your apricots are not slightly soft with a sweet aroma, store them at room temperature, away from sunlight and heat. This will allow them time to further ripen. Unripe apricots will usually ripen within 5 days. To speed up the process, they can be placed in a paper bag (on the counter, away from sunlight and heat) for 2 or 3 days. Check apricots often, as they can ripen quickly.
Once they ripen, refrigerate the unwashed apricots to help prolong their life. It is notable that some authorities caution that cold temperatures may change their texture and flavor. So, once they are fully ripe it is best to eat your fresh apricots as soon as possible. Ripe apricots may keep in the refrigerator for up to one week, but ideally should be used within a few days.
Dried Apricots. For optimal nutritional value and shelf life, dried apricots should be stored in the refrigerator and used within 6 months. To extend the shelf life of dried apricots, they may be stored in an airtight bag or container in the freezer. There is usually a “Best by” date on the original packaging of dried apricots. For best flavor, enjoy them by that date. However, when kept in the refrigerator or freezer, their quality will likely extend beyond that original date.
Canned Apricots. Store unopened canned apricots in a cool, dry place, such as your pantry. Once opened, store any leftovers in a covered, nonmetallic container in the refrigerator. Use within 4 days.
How to Prepare a Fresh Apricot
First wash your apricot under cold water, and pat it dry. Then run a knife around the entire fruit at the natural indentation. Then grasp each half in your hands and gently twist the halves in opposite directions, separating the halves (like you would an avocado). Remove the pit, and enjoy!
Fresh vs Dried vs Canned Apricots
Fresh. When considering fruits and vegetables, fresh is always best with regard to nutrition. However, since fresh apricots have a short season, and don’t travel nor store well, dried and canned are our only options most of the time. Nevertheless, if you can get some fresh apricots when they are in season, consider them a good “find” and take advantage of the moment. Their nutritional value will be at its peak in the fresh state and they make a wonderful treat that we don’t get very often.
Dried. Dried apricots are usually found year-round in most stores and online. They may be found sulfured or unsulfured. The sulfured options maintain their beautiful orange color and flexible texture. The sulfur flavor may be objectional to some people with more discriminating taste buds. Also, some people react to sulfites that have been added to foods, so these would not be good options for them. The nutritional value of dried apricots is similar to their fresh counterparts, although the Vitamin C content will be reduced. Also, since water has been removed from the fruit when dried, their calorie and sugar contents will be more concentrated. It’s very easy to overeat dried fruit, so if you’re monitoring your calorie and sugar intake, it may be helpful to remove your “allotment” of dried apricots from the container and put the rest away before eating your treat. It’s far too easy to overeat them when eating “from bag to mouth,” so beware! Note that one-fourth to one-third cup of dried apricots is roughly equivalent to one cup of fresh. Bear that in mind when snacking on dried apricots to help keep you from overeating them.
Canned. Canned apricots are handy to keep in your pantry for whenever the need or desire for apricots comes up. When shopping for canned apricots, it’s important to read the label before making your purchase. Many are packed in syrup with added sweetener. If that is no issue for you, then that’s your choice. Many people cannot or choose not to indulge in added sweeteners. In that case, look for apricots canned in water or unsweetened fruit juice. The natural sugars in the fruit and juices will provide plenty of sweetness to the apricots, and will give you the option of adding more sweetness if needed in the dish you make with them.
When compared with fresh apricots, canned apricots are similar in nutritional content, with some nutrients actually increasing, while others decrease somewhat during the canning process. As reported in 2018 in the Journal of Food Science, researchers compared the nutritional content of fresh, canned, and frozen apricots from the same source. The canned apricots had increased in antioxidants such as beta-carotene and phenols, with a decrease in Vitamin C content. The frozen apricots exhibited increased antioxidant levels in all compounds tested, and remained higher than those found in fresh apricots, even after 3 months of being frozen.
One can conclude that apricots are healthful treats in whatever form they can be found—fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. It’s just important to be mindful of how many dried apricots you eat at one time, with regard to calorie and natural sugar content.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Apricots
* Add sliced apricots to hot or cold cereal.
* Add chopped apricots to pancake batter.
* Add diced apricots to chicken dishes or vegetable stews.
* Add diced apricots to a green salad.
* Apricots can be used in most recipes that call for peaches or nectarines.
* Apricots work well in many savory dishes, including those with lamb or poultry.
* Fresh apricots will turn dark after being cut. To help keep their color, dip the pieces in a solution with water and citrus or pineapple juice.
* Most recipes using fresh apricots don’t call for peeling them. But if you need to remove the skins, dip them in boiling water for 20 seconds, then quickly transfer them to a bowl of ice water. The skins should easily peel off.
* If your dried apricots have gotten too dry and hard, they can be revived either in the microwave or on the stove. For the microwave, place the dried apricots on a microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle a little water on them and cover them. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes. Check often for pliability so they are not overcooked. On the stove, dried apricots may be steamed until they soften. Check them often and remove them when they are the desired texture. Also, dried apricots can be softened by placing them in a bowl and covering them with hot water. Remove them when they are the desired texture.
* When chopping dried apricots in a food processor, add a little flour of choice with the apricots. The added flour will keep the small pieces from sticking together.
* When chopping dried apricots with a knife, oil the blade of the knife or dip it in flour to help keep the small pieces from sticking to the knife.
* If you enjoy salads but are trying to do without added oil, try pureeing canned apricots to use as an oil substitute. Ideally, opt for those packed in water or fruit juice, without added sweeteners of any type.
* If you use canned apricots, freeze the drained juice in ice cube trays and use them in smoothies or cold beverages, like iced tea. They will add extra flavor and sweetness to your beverage.
* A fruit sauce can be made from the drained juice of canned apricots. Simply thicken it with a little flour of choice or cornstarch. Use it over ice cream, desserts, or even pancakes.
* Canned apricots are an excellent choice to be used in baking, cobblers, and crisps.
* Try adding some chopped dried apricots to a cooked grain such as rice, quinoa, couscous, millet, or wild rice.
* If a recipe calls for dried apricots and you don’t have enough, you can substitute dried peaches, dried nectarines, or dried apples.
* Add chopped dried apricots to homemade granola.
* Make a pie with canned or fresh apricots.
* Try a parfait by layering yogurt with chopped apricots (canned, fresh, or dried), and granola. Add in some chopped nuts, if desired. Top with a little shredded coconut.
* Try apricot shortcake in place of strawberry shortcake.
* Top cottage cheese with sliced or chopped apricots (canned, fresh, or dried).
* For a healthful apricot jam, cook dried apricots in apple juice until they are very tender. No added sweetener is needed. Then puree them and serve. Store leftovers in a closed container in the refrigerator.
* For an easy apricot salsa, combine chopped fresh or canned apricots with chili peppers, lime juice, chopped onion, and a little ground cumin. Serve with chicken or fish.
* For something different, use sliced fresh apricots on a sandwich in place of sliced tomatoes.
* One pound of fresh apricots contains about 8 to 12 whole apricots, and about 2-1/2 cups of sliced apricots.
* One pound of dried apricots is about 2-3/4 cups, and about 5 cups when cooked.
* 2-1/2 pounds of fresh apricots is about 2 to 3 pints of frozen apricots, or 1 quart when canned.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Apricots
Allspice, anise, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry powder, curry spices, fennel seeds, lemongrass, lemon thyme, mint, nutmeg, parsley, pepper, rosemary, saffron, star anise, tarragon, thyme, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Apricots
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, bacon, cashews, chestnuts, chicken, ham, hazelnuts, lamb, nuts (in general), pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, pork, poultry, prosciutto, pumpkin seeds, salmon, sesame seeds, turkey, walnuts
Vegetables: Arugula, beets, cabbage, carrots, chiles, fennel, garlic, ginger, jicama, kale, lettuce, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, zucchini
Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries (in general), blueberries, cherries, coconut, cranberries, dried fruits (in general), figs, fruit juices (in general), grapefruit, lemon, lime, mangoes, nectarines, oranges (fresh, juice, liqueur, zest), peaches, pears, pineapple, plums (dried, fresh), raisins, raspberries, strawberries
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, bulgur, cereals (hot and cold), couscous, grains (in general), granola, oats, quinoa, rice, wheat berries, wild rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Buttermilk, cheese (i.e., Brie, cottage, cream, goat, ricotta, soft white), cream, ice cream, mascarpone, sour cream, whipped cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Brandy, caramel, chocolate, Cognac, crème fraiche, honey, maple syrup, sugar, (i.e., brown, powdered), vinegar (i.e., balsamic, champagne, rice), white chocolate, wine (i.e., sweet, white)
Apricots have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e., breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies), cereals (hot and cold), chutneys, compotes, desserts (i.e., crisps, crumbles, custards), French toast, granola, ice cream, jams, juices, Middle Eastern cuisines, Moroccan cuisine, pancakes and crepes, pilafs, porridges, preserves, puddings (i.e., rice), salads (i.e., fruit, rice), salsas, sauces, smoothies, sorbets, soups (i.e., fruit), stews, stuffings, tagines (i.e., Moroccan stews), tarts
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Apricots
Add apricots (any type) to any of the following combinations…
Almonds + Cinnamon + Oats
Almonds +Raisins + Orange + Yogurt
Brown Sugar + Sweet Potatoes + Vanilla
Chiles + Ginger + Honey + Lime + Vinegar
Chocolate + Walnuts
Citrus (orange, lemon, lime) + Ginger
Dried Cherries + Walnuts + Oats + Yogurt
Grains (i.e., couscous, wild rice) + Nuts
Raw Refrigerator Apricot Jam with Chia Seeds https://producemadesimple.ca/raw-refrigerator-apricot-jam/
Pear Apricot Chutney https://www.canadianliving.com/food/recipe/pear-apricot-chutney
Apricot Scones https://producemadesimple.ca/apricot-scones/
Grilled Apricot Caprese Salad https://www.jessfuel.com/2015/06/03/grilled-apricot-caprese-salad/
Apricot Chicken with Ginger and Cayenne Pepper https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/recipes/apricot-chicken-ginger-and-cayenne-pepper
Grilled Apricot Salad https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/recipes/grilled-apricot-salad
Apricot Rice Pilaf https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/recipes/apricot-rice-pilaf
Apricot Almond Bites https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/recipes/apricot-almond-bites
42 Apricot Recipes That Show Off This Fuzzy Little Fruit https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/apricot-recipes/
Our 21 Best Apricot Dessert Recipes https://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus/apricot-desserts-for-summer-cake-compote-tart-recipes-gallery
23 Sweet and Savory Apricot Recipes https://www.thespruceeats.com/fresh-and-dried-apricot-recipes-4687078
Slow Cooker Apricot Preserves https://www.thespruceeats.com/slow-cooker-apricot-preserves-1327823
Stewed Dried Apricots https://www.food.com/recipe/stewed-dried-apricots-226005
Stewed Apricots and Dried Plums https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/4915-stewed-apricots-and-dried-plums
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.