The first historical reference to apricots dates back to ancient times in Armenia. In fact, it has been cultivated in that region for so long that many had come to believe Armenia to be the origin point for the tart and juicy fruit. However, those assumptions now appear to be wrong.
The most common species of apricot is the Prunus Armeniaca. This is the variety of apricot long associated with Armenia. Genetic analysis now shows that the P. armeniaca was first grown in Central Asia and China over 4,000 years ago. This point of origin was first theorized by Soviet botanist Nikolai Vavilov.
From China, the domesticated apricot tree was imported to South Asia, West Asia, Europe, North Africa, and Japan. There are 11 primary varieties of apricot:
- Prunus Armeniaca – the common apricot
- Prunus Brigantina – a species native to Europe
- Prunus Cathayana – a breed of apricot native to Hebei province in China
- Prunus x Dasycarpa – a lineage of apricots identified by their unique purple color and thought to be the result of cross pollination between the apricot and the cherry plum
- Prunus Hongpingensis – a version of apricot cultivated in China’s Shennogjia Forestry District
- Prunus Hypotrichodes – an apricot grown in the Chongqing municipality in China
- Prunus Limeixing – an apricot species cultivated throughout Northern China
- Prunus Mandshurica – known as the Manchurian Apricot, native to Northeast Asia
- Prunus Mume – referred to as the Japanese Apricot, native to Southern China and distinguished by its beautiful blossom
- Prunus Sibirica – called the Siberian Apricot, found in Siberia, Mongolia, Northern China, and Korea
- Prunus Zhengheensis – labeled the Zhenghe Apricot, native to the Fujian province on China’s southeastern coast
WATCH THEM GROW
Most apricots grow on small trees ranging from 20 to 25 feet tall. Dwarf and semi dwarf trees range in height from 5 to 18 feet. Apricot trees are unique because they are self-pollinating, meaning they don’t require a pollination partner to grow fruit.
The fruit itself is a drupe, similar to a peach. These stone fruits usually range in color from yellow to orange. Depending on the amount of sun exposure, they can also exhibit a tinge of red.
In the U.S., apricots are grown in the country’s western states where spring and summer are warm and winters are cold enough to induce a dormancy period. According to the Agricultural Marketing Research Center, 75% of the apricots grown in the U.S. hail from California. Additional locations for apricot farmers include Washington and Utah.
In 2020, U.S. apricot production came in at 33,400 tons. This translates to a $34 million industry yield. Patterson, California has given itself claim to the moniker of “The Apricot Capital of the World.” The small Modesto town holds an annual Apricot Festival featuring apricot foods, drinks, and games.
Worldwide, the leading producers of apricots are Turkey and Iran. Other major producers include Uzbekistan, Italy, and Algeria. The estimated world production of apricots in 2017 was a whopping 4,257, 241 metric tons.
Interestingly, apricots can be successfully grown when grafted onto rootstocks of other Prunus genus species including peaches and plums. Grafting controls the height of the tree and results in earlier fruiting than a tree grown on its own roots.
FOR YOUR HEALTH
The apricot is rich with vitamins, flavonoids, and potassium which results in the stone fruit possessing many health benefits.
The strong presence of potassium in apricots allows them to be beneficial for nerve and muscle function. This mineral also is linked to maintaining healthy blood pressure. Potassium is also crucial for maintaining overall heart health.
The skin of the apricot demonstrates high levels of vitamin E and vitamin C. These antioxidants help to protect skin cells from UV radiation. They also aid in reducing the signs of aging by minimizing the presence of wrinkles and boosting skin elasticity. The skin is also packed with beta-carotene that can help protect skin from sunburns and UV damage.
Along with its high levels of beta-carotene, the apricot is also packed with vitamin A and other carotenoids. These components are key for maintaining eye health. The nutrients found in apricots are linked to reducing the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Apricots are also high in fiber, which truly helps in maintaining a healthy digestive tract. Apricots feature both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber – both of which can be instrumental in maintaining your health.
The presence of flavonoids helps to protect against inflammatory illnesses. Flavonoids also reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. The primary flavonoids in apricots are catechin, quercetin, and chlorogenic acids.
Altogether, apricots contain such vitamins and minerals as:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Pantothenic Acid
THINGS TO AVOID
While the ideal climate for growing apricots is warm and sunny, too much sun can be a problem. Hot weather such as that in California’s Central Valley can cause pit burn. This condition causes the fruit around the pit to become soft and brown. Apricots are also susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases including brown rot and blossom wilt.
The apricot kernel or seed has its own uses. Apricot kernel oil is used to give amaretto its almond-like flavor. However, it should be warned that the kernel contains amygdalin which is a poisonous compound. This compound has been marketed as an alternative cancer treatment, however there is no data suggesting it is effective in abating cancer. Further, the toxic element can also be lethal due to cyanide poisoning.
Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include:
- Increased thirst
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Drop in blood pressure
A DRIED FRUIT DELIGHT
Apricots are a seasonal fruit. So, you’re not always going to find fresh apricots at the grocery store. Thankfully, though, dried apricots are available in abundance from healthy snack providers like BULK.
In dried form, the apricot retains many of its beneficial healthy characteristics including high levels of vitamins and nutrients.
Dried apricots are extremely delicious, amplifying the sweet flavor of the fruit. They can be used in making cookies, smoothies, salads, tarts, muffins, pies, pancakes, and cakes. Truly the options are limited only by the creativity of the chef.