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Dried tart cherries are the pitted and dehydrated fruit from several varieties of cherry tree. Montmorency is the most commonly grown variety of tart cherry in the United States used for drying, canning and freezing. The process of dehydration removes most of the cherry’s water content, extending the shelf life of this dehydrated fruit while retaining most of the nutrients. Dried tart cherries can be stored in sealed containers at cool room temperatures with other non-perishable foods. Fresh sweet cherries spoil quickly, even with refrigeration, making dried tart cherries a more convenient pantry food item.
Preferred for cooking, tart cherries do not lose their flavor as sweet cherries do when heated. Although most commonly used in baked goods and desserts, dried tart cherries are found in a wide variety of recipes. They can be used instead of raisins in any recipe, providing a distinctive flavor to the dish. Many people eat them as a topping for cereal, yogurt and ice cream, added to trail mix, or alone as a snack. Dried tart cherries come sweetened, unsweetened or chocolate covered, and different recipes may require a specific type.
Not only snacks and sweets include cherries, but main dishes and salads as well. Grilled or baked meat dishes can be served with a dried tart cherry sauce. A wide variety of recipes for casseroles including meat, wild rice and dried tart cherries are available. They can also be added to stuffing ingredients. Chicken salad with cherries and nuts and spinach salads with cherries, red onions and nuts are also popular recipes.
Ongoing research has discovered numerous health benefits of cherries. Their high antioxidant content comes primarily from the deep red pigments called anthocyanins. Clinical research and lab studies have shown that these antioxidants reduce the risk of heart disease and inflammation. Long used as a popular remedy for gout and other joint pain, studies are finding that tart cherries may also relieve muscle pain from strenuous exercise. Other areas of study include the effect of cherries on abdominal fat, insomnia, cancer and metabolic syndrome.
Originating in Central Asia, the tart cherry was later cultivated in Europe and then North America. It is more tolerant of diverse climates than the sweet cherry tree and is particularly suited to the conditions in the northern U.S. and parts of Canada. Most of the tart cherries in the United States are grown in Michigan. Globally, large producers of tart cherries include Russia, Poland, Turkey and Germany. Other names for tart cherries are sour or pie cherries.
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