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May 04

Ingredient of the Month: Apricots

 

Fresh apricots on a sunny day

The apricot season has begun!

Here is a new feature for this Blog.  In the first week of every month I will be showcasing a fresh seasonal ingredient, discussing its nutritional value and showing you ways to incorporate it into your life.  This week I met the first apricots of the season on a market stall (the apricot season in Britain runs from May-September), so I was inspired to talk about these golden beauties.

What are the key nutrients in Apricots?

Apricots contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals.  In particular, 100g of fresh apricots (about 3 fruits) contains 39% of your daily Vitamin A requirement, 17% of your daily Vitamin C, and 7% of your daily potassium (1).  The same amount of fruit contains 8% (2g) of your recommended fibre intake, but with only 48 calories and a glycaemic load (GL) of 4, making it one of the best fruit choices if you are interested in balancing your blood sugar.

Apricots owe their golden-orange colour to carotenes such as lycopene and lutein.  These plant chemicals have been associated with eye and heart health, and with cancer prevention (2).

How can I include them in my diet?

  • Include a few dried apricots chopped into your morning porridge (the GL for 100g dried apricots is 30, so use sparingly)
  • Use apricots in your fruit salads.  The colour is a particularly pretty contrast with dark fruits such as blueberries.
  • Add a few fresh apricots to your smoothie for an easy fibre boost.
    Warming Vanilla Apricots with Coconut Yoghurt
    Warming Vanilla Apricots with Coconut Yoghurt
  • If you are having a barbecue, thread apricot halves with other firm fruit pieces onto a skewer and grill them on the barbecue.  Brush with a little honey or maple syrup if you eat it to caramelise them.
  • Dried apricots make a great addition to tagines, but if you don’t like spicy flavours, you can use them in ordinary dishes with chicken and lamb, aubergine and butternut squash too.  Try this recipe for chicken and apricot casserole.
  • For a sweet, but not sugary treat, try out my Warming Vanilla Apricots.

Are there any risks associated with apricots?

Natural dried apricots

Use dried apricots that look like this. They don’t contain sulphur dioxide.

Dried apricots often contain sulphur dioxide as a colour preservative, which some people react to badly.  When you buy dried apricots, buy the dark ones rather than the bright orange ones.  They may not be as pretty, but they also contain fewer additives.

Apricots contain moderate levels of oxalates.  If you are sensitive to oxalates, or you have a history of calcium oxalate-based kidney stones, you should make them an occasional treat.

Although apricot kernels have been found to inhibit cancer growth in mice (3), they can also contain up to 200mg cyanide per kilo (4).  Cyanide is a fatal poison,  so if you use apricot kernels in your cooking limit yourself to 3 per day, and avoid giving them to young children.

 

Did you know?

    • Apricots originated in China.  In antiquity, the Chinese called them ‘moons of the faithful’, and believed that they would make women more fertile.
    • It is believed that apricots were brought from China to Greece by Alexander the Great.  From there they were distributed throughout the Western world.
Astronaut standing on the moon
“Ready for an apricot, Mission Control!”
  • Eating Japanese apricots (prunus mume) daily may help food move faster through the digestive tract, and reduce reflux symptoms (5).  Japanese apricots are a sour pickle, traditionally eaten with rice in Japan.
  • Astronauts ate apricots on the Apollo moon mission.
  • Apricots are ready to eat when they are golden-orange and slightly soft to the touch; neither hard nor mushy.  If you are not eating them for a few days, buy them when they are firm, and more of a yellow colour.

References:

1. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1827/2.  [Accessed 4 May 2016].

2. Murray, M., & Pizzorno, L., (2005).  The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods, London, Piatkus.

3. Yamashanov, V.A., Kovan’ko E.G., & Pustovalov, Y.I., (2016).  Effects of Amygdaline from Apricot Kernel on Transplanted Tumors in Mice.  Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine, 160(5), 172-174.

4. Chaouali, N., Gana, I., Dorra, A., Khelifi, F., Nouioui, A., Masri, W., Blewaer, I., et al, (2013).  Potential Toxic Levels of Cyanide in Almonds (Prunus amygdalus), Apricot Kernels (Prunus armeniaca), and Almond Syrup.  ISRN Toxicology, Published online September 2013.

5. Maekita, T., Kato, J., Enomoto, S., Yoshida, T., Utsunomiya, H., Hayashi, H., Hanamitsu, T., et al, (2015).  Japanese apricot improves symptoms of gastrointestinal dysmotility associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease.  World Journal of Gastroenterology, 21(26), 8170-8177.

 

 

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