In season: The Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)
Resident blogger Megan Mclean takes a look at one of her favourite fruits which are in season in September
Prunus is a species of Rosaceae (the rose family) – originally found in Northern regions and widely popular for its edible fruits and desirable appearance. Within this family you’ll also find plums, almonds, peaches, cherries, nectarines and today’s fruit of fancy – the apricot.
The flavor of an apricot can range from sweet to tart and can often come across as quite dry if not at its best. The apricot kernel can be used to produce oils, medicinal substances and is also used as a flavour in liquor.
Although the journey of the apricot around the world is not entirely clear, we know that the fruit was first grown in China and archaeological evidence also shows their popularity in Armenia.
The golden-orange apricots were first introduced to Europe by the Greeks and today the tree is grown worldwide with the top producer (2018) being Turkey, producing 795,768 tons a year. Iran, Uzebekistan, Algeria, Italy, California and Spain are also in the top 10 producers and the most likely origin of your supermarket-bought apricots.
So why is this soft, succulent fruit often missing from our local Scottish fruit & veg stalls? The main reason is surprisingly not the cold climate, but instead the ever-changing weather forecasts containing copious amounts of precipitation. Apricots have very fragile skin and don’t recover well from hail and strong winds.
For successful growth of apricot trees, well-drained mountain slopes are preferred, alongside a continuous cold, dry winter followed by a continuous hot, dry summer, making Scotland a less than ideal location for this fruit to flourish.
Luck has been had south of the border in Kent, however, where apricots are currently being successfully grown and supplied to supermarkets. So there might yet be hope for Scotland’s apricot crops in the future once our growing knowledge has expanded.
If you fancy taking on the challenge yourself, the recommendations for growing apricot trees are to plant them in front of a south-facing wall where they will have access to maximum sunlight. It’s also advised to protect them from rain to encourage growth and prevent bacterial canker infections. The apricot season in the UK spans from May – September, with the end of this period producing them at their best.
These aptly-dubbed ‘golden eggs of the sun’ are mouthwatering and enticing enough from the very second they are first spied in the fruit bowl, but why else should we include more of them in our diets?
Perhaps the most widely known nutritional fact about apricots is that they’re an excellent source of Vitamin A and beta-carotene – aka fat-soluble vitamins which protect and benefit the body in many ways. This vitamin is a component of the light-sensitive pigment rhodopsin in the retina of the eye and making sure you have adequate supplies can prevent night blindness (poor vision in reduced lighting), while also slowing the decline in eyesight commonly associated with ageing.
Your immune system will also thank you for hitting the recommended 900mg/day for men and 700mg/day for females since Vitamin A deficiency can make you vulnerable to infection and prolong recovery time. This is because it helps – and is involved in – our body’s natural defences, such as white blood cells and mucous membranes in the eyes, gut and lungs which keep out foreign bodies called pathogens.
Low in calories, high in goodness
The average apricot weighs around 35g and contains just 17 calories, which is hard to believe when you start to understand the countless health benefits packed into every single one. But just be mindful that if you choose dried apricots, the calorie content shoots up to 241 calories per 100g. Apart from being low in calories, apricots are also a fantastic fibre source which is crucial for feeling full for longer, healthy bowel movements and digestive health, basically cleaning out your intestines on a regular basis. Phytochemicals within the fruit also work alongside fibre to improve blood sugar levels, therefore helping to prevent heart disease, diabetes and bowel cancer.
Many fruits are excellent sources of antioxidants and apricots are no different. For those of you who don’t know, there are certain atoms in our bodies called free radicals, which cause damage to cells, proteins and DNA while exploring our body for free electrons. Antioxidants are substances that aim to prevent this damage from occurring while also removing toxins, reducing infection risks and potentially aiding in preventing certain types of cancer. Both Vitamin A and C are excellent antioxidants and consuming apricots, alongside other fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds will make sure you have a healthy supply of free radical fighters.
Fresh or dried apricots – which are more nutritious?
Generally, fresh fruit with its low calories, high fibre and untouched state can’t be beaten, but dried apricots deserve their credit too. Surprisingly, dried apricots contain higher levels of Vitamin A, iron, potassium and B vitamins than the fresh fruit. Dried apricots might also triumph when it comes to cooking and baking –with it being a popular ingredient in many sweet and savoury dishes. On the downside, Vitamin C levels decrease significantly during processing and with time in general.
Although not commonly seen in major supermarkets, there are two types of dried apricot that can be bought: preserved or sun-dried. Those pretty, golden-dried apricots sitting in your cupboard right now are likely preserved and bleached using sulphite gases to help them keep hold of their bright looks and lengthen shelf life.
Although the high levels of Sulphur Dioxide are safe for consumption, it’s still a preservative I would recommend avoiding, if you can. Some people can react badly to Sulphur and those who suffer from asthma should take particular care.
Sun-dried apricots, on the other hand, have their outer flesh oxidised by sunlight and are naturally preserved by this method, but in the process sacrificing their orange glow for a somewhat less magnificent brown shade. The taste is the same, however, if not better.
Some varieties of dried apricot are also infused with syrups and sugars which are unnecessary and push the calorie content up, so make sure you check the label before purchasing.
How can I include more apricots in my diet?
When it comes to including apricots in your diet the options really are endless. Because of their tartness, complementary flavours include black pepper, caramel, ginger, hazelnut and almond. Dried apricots work wonders in baking and also mixed into savoury dishes with curry and couscous.
Personally, as a university dietetics student with limited baking time on my hands, I love the simplicity of the fresh fruit cut up and added to my bowl of porridge in the morning.
Apricot snack bars and flapjack bars are also a fantastic option for taking with you on the go. This recipe from Wholesomelicious for vegan, paleo apricot bars is a must when using up your dried apricot supplies.
Pinterest is another great resource for recipe-finding focusing on one main ingredient. Here are just a few to add to your recipe bucket list:
- Sweet Potato, Chestnut & Apricot Loaf
- Apricot White Chocolate Cookies
- Apricot & Hazelnut stuffing
Next time you are lacking baking inspiration, wondering what to add to your dinner for an extra flavour kick or a little health boost, remember those golden eggs of the sun collecting dust at the back of your cupboard or fruit bowl. They are a true gift from above!
For more foodie posts from Scotland, visit Megan’s own blog at Oats & Ends.