In Season: Apricots
You can enjoy dried apricots all year long, but fresh apricots -- so delicate and vibrant -- only hit the market for a short time. Get your hands on some while you still can, and try them in some sweet and savory dishes.
Apricots are a member of the Rosaceae family along with peaches, apples and pears. They’re in season from early May to July. Approximately 95% of the U.S. crop comes from California -- so you can consider them (at least if you're on the west coast) a semi-local treat.
Fresh apricots are petite, round fruits that are pale to bright orange in color, depending on the variety and how ripe they are. You might also find some with a gorgeous pink blush on the skin. When ripe, they're sweet like a peach with just a tiny punch of sour flavor (unripe ones will be more sour). Apricots are delicate enough for light snacking, but sturdy enough to be used for cooking and baking.
Like other dried fruits, dried apricots have a sweet, more concentrated flavor (each dried piece is actually half of a fresh apricot). Most dried apricots you find are orange or brown. Orange ones have been treated with sulfur dioxide to retain their color. Though most consider this preservative safe, stick to the unsulfured kinds if you have a sulfur allergy (they’re just as delicious!).
You can also find apricots canned or cooked into jams or preserves. These varieties can be higher in calories because of the added sugars. Choose apricots that have been canned in water or natural juices and keep portions of jams to about a tablespoon.
One cup of fresh apricots has about 75 calories, 3 grams of fiber and plenty of vitamin A and beta-carotene, an antioxidant that's good for healthy eyes and skin.
One cup of dried apricots has 313 calories, 9 grams of fiber and 35% more vitamin A than fresh. But a cup of dried apricots is a lot more than you would need for a snack -- keep portions to about 1/4 cup.
Apricot pits, or “kernels,” were once believed to have cancer-fighting powers and were used to make the drug “laetrile." Further research deemed this drug ineffective and it's no longer available in the United States. Apricot kernels are toxic if eaten raw (because they contain cyanide), but roasted kernels are safe and have a mild nutty flavor, similar to an almond. This Chicago Sun Times article has more info on apricot kernels.
The sweet and sour flavor of apricots makes them well suited for all kinds of recipes. When they're in season, I love snacking on them as much as possible. I also add cut-up pieces to garden salads and sprinkle with slivered almonds or to pasta salad with grilled chicken, spinach and grilled red onion. Since it's cookout season, try grilling apricots and serving them with some vanilla frozen yogurt and crushed amaretto cookies. Dried apricots work well in salads, cookies and cooked grains like brown rice or couscous. Toby and I always cart along trail mix with dried apricots and almonds for long days at the office. Apricot jams or preserves add some sweetness to homemade salad dressings and glazes for chicken or pork.
Want to enjoy fresh apricots for more than just a few months? Give them a quick blanch in boiling water (peeling off the skin if you want), slice, remove the pit and freeze them for up to 3 months.
Shopping Tip: Choose apricots that are bright orange and slightly soft. If they're not ripe when you bring them home, let them sit on the counter for a day or two. When ripe, store in the refrigerator and enjoy within a few days.
Apricot recipes to try: