Cherries for cherry pie

Pie Cherries Vs. Regular Cherries: Best Cherry Varieties For Pie

Not all cherry trees are the same. There are two main varieties – sour and sweet – and each has its own uses. While sweet cherries are sold in grocery stores and eaten straight, sour cherries are hard to eat on their own and not usually sold fresh in grocery stores. You can bake a pie with sweet cherries, but pies are what sour (or tart) cherries are made for. Keep reading to learn more about what kind of cherries are good for pies.

Pie Cherries vs. Regular Cherries

The main difference when it comes to pie cherries vs. regular cherries is the amount of sugar you’ll have to use. Pie cherries, or sour cherries, are not nearly as sweet as the cherries you buy to eat, and have to be sweetened with a lot of extra sugar.

If you’re following a recipe, see if it specifies whether you need sweet or sour cherries. Often your recipe will have sour cherries in mind. You can substitute one for the other, but you’ll have to adjust the sugar, too. Otherwise, you could end up with a pie that’s cloyingly sweet or inedibly sour.

Additionally, sour pie cherries are normally juicier than sweet cherries, and may result in a runnier pie unless you add a little cornstarch.

Sour Pie Cherries

Sour pie cherries aren’t usually sold fresh, but you can usually find them in the grocery store canned specifically for pie filling. Or try going to a farmer’s market. Then again, you could always grow your own sour cherry tree.

Sour pie cherries can be broken into two main categories: Morello and Amarelle. Morello cherries have dark red flesh. Amarelle cherries have yellow to clear flesh and are the most popular. Montmorency, a variety of Amarelle cherry, makes up 95% of the sour pie cherries sold in North America.

Today is all about the summertime essential. And no, I’m not talking about sunscreen. Though sun safety is equally as important as dessert, right?

Anyway. We’re all making a big ol’ cherry pie.

  • Zero canned filling.
  • Zero store-bought pie crust.

All from scratch because YOU CAN DO THIS.

I love baking pie. You already know this. But this wasn’t always the case. Up until 4 years ago, baking pie from scratch was foreign to me. Something for the bakeries, certainly not me. Pie crust? Forget about it. Homemade filling? Nope. It’s all too complicated and scary.

But guess what? Baking pie is nothing to fear. In fact, after having lots of practice, I now think of baking pie as my own little cheap therapy session. Something about mixing that pie dough by hand, rolling it all out, making cute pie crust designs, and smelling that glorious fresh-baked pie in the oven is therapeutic for me. It’s my me time and something I enjoy doing just because. No other baked good gives me the content satisfaction that pie does. Plus it tastes pretty awesome no matter which flavor is on the menu. (Apple Pie, anyone?!)

And that’s why I wanted to share this cherry pie recipe with you. Out of all pie flavors and varieties, I feel like cherry pie is where most depend on canned filling. Which is certainly delicious and convenient! But that’s the challenge– making it with fresh cherries.

See how approachable it is in this quick video!

Which Cherries to Use

The cherry filling can be made with your favorite cherry variety. I chose a mix of rainier cherries and dark sweet cherries. You can use all rainier or all dark sweet– or if you opt for sour cherries, add a little extra sugar. See my recipe note below.

Pitting Cherries is Definitely the Pits

You’ll need to pit your cherries and if you feel like spending 3 hours doing this without a pitter, go right ahead. But let me tell you– you will save so much time (and headache!!!) using a cherry pitter.

What Else?

Not much goes into the filling besides sweet cherries. Some sugar and cornstarch to sweeten and thicken, respectively. Since we use enough cornstarch for stability, this homemade cherry pie is the perfect amount of juicy. It’s solid enough that you’ll be able to cut some gorgeous slices, but still tender and oh-so-juicy. Also inside? A squeeze of lemon juice, a bit of vanilla, and my favorite addition of all: almond extract. Cherry and almond extract are a power flavor duo!! A pairing you most certainly need to try in this homemade cherry pie.

I encourage you to use a quality pie dough and recommend my dependable pie crust recipe. As the base of pie, pie crust is in every single bite. So it’s pretty important to use a pie crust recipe that not only WORKS, but tastes pretty epic as well.

My recipe makes 2 pie crusts: one for the bottom and one for the top. I wrote and filmed an entire tutorial on this buttery flaky pie crust a couple years ago. Warning: that’s a very long post! But it discusses common questions, issues, and solutions for making pie crust from scratch. A must read if pie crust intimidates you!

I made a simple lattice pie crust design, but decorate the pie however you’d like.

Don’t Forget the Extras!

Butter: Dot the pie filling with little cubes of butter before baking. Why? Um, because butter is delicious. No but seriously, a little butter enriches the flavor of the pie filling. And it also helps prevent the formation of lots of bubbles on the surface of the filling.

Egg wash: The egg wash is brushed on top of the pie crust. Do you know the point of an egg wash? It’s to help develop a gold brown crust. Without it, the pie crust will brown but will look quite dull and lackluster. An egg wash, which is a mix of milk and egg, creates that golden sheen and even gives the crust a little extra crisp flavor.

Coarse sugar: Because doesn’t everything deserve a little sparkle?! You can totally skip the coarse sugar but I’m partial to sparkly pies. 🙂

Marbles and speckles of butter in the homemade pie dough = layers and layers and layers of flakiness!! I promise you don’t get this level of flakiness with store-bought.

Bake the pie until golden brown. I prefer to use a glass pie dish so I can see when the sides/bottom of the pie crust are browning. Whichever pie dish you use, the pie will take about an hour. The downside? Waiting for the cherry pie to cool.

But it’s all so worth it. You’ll see!

Description

Homemade cherry pie features a buttery flaky pie crust and juicy cherry filling.

Ingredients

  • Homemade Pie Crust (my recipe makes 2 crusts; 1 for bottom 1 for top)
  • 4 and 1/2 cups halved pitted fresh cherries*
  • 2/3 cup (135g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (28g) cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon (15ml) lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (it’s delicious!)
  • 1 Tablespoon (14g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon (15ml) milk
  • optional: coarse sugar for sprinkling on crust

Instructions

  1. My #1 tip? Keep the dough, filling, and prepared (unbaked) pie as cold as you can at all times. Refrigerate (or freeze) the prepared pie before baking for up to 1 hour. Refrigerate the filling before you need it. Keep everything cold cold cold– always.
  2. The crust: Prepare my pie crust recipe through step 5.
  3. Make the filling: In a large bowl, stir the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla, and almond extract together until thoroughly combined. Set filling aside in the refrigerator as the oven preheats. This gives the filling a chance to rest.
  4. Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).
  5. Roll out the chilled pie dough: On a floured work surface, roll out one of the discs of chilled dough (keep the other one in the refrigerator). Turn the dough about a quarter turn after every few rolls until you have a circle 12 inches in diameter. Carefully place the dough into a 9×2 inch pie dish. Tuck it in with your fingers, making sure it is smooth. Spoon the filling into the crust and discard any leftover juices in the bottom of the bowl. Dot the pieces of butter on top of the filling.
  6. Arrange the lattice: Remove the other disc of chilled pie dough from the refrigerator. Roll the dough into a circle that is 12 inches diameter. Using a pastry wheel, sharp knife, or pizza cutter, cut strips of dough– I cut four strips 2 inches wide and two strips 1 inch wide. Carefully thread the strips over and under one another, pulling back strips as necessary to weave. (See video above!) Press the edges of the strips into the bottom pie crust edges to seal. Use a small paring knife to trim off excess dough. Flute or crimp the edges with a fork, if desired.
  7. Lightly brush the top of the pie crust with the egg wash. Sprinkle the top with coarse sugar, if using.
  8. Place the pie onto a large baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Keeping the pie in the oven, turn the temperature down to 375°F (190°C) and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes. After the first 20 minutes of bake time, I place a pie crust shield on top of the pie to prevent the edges from browning too quickly.
  9. Allow the pie to cool for 3 full hours at room temperature before serving. This time allows the filling to thicken up. Cover leftovers tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead / Freezing Instructions: A couple ways to make ahead of time! Make 1 day in advance– after it cools, cover tightly and keep at room temperature. The pie crust dough can also be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Baked pie also freezes well for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature before serving. Prepared fillings can also be frozen up to 3 months, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
  2. Special Tools: Cherry Pitter | Rolling Pin | Pie Dish | Pastry Blender | Pastry Brush | Eat Dessert First Fork
  3. Cherries: You can use any variety of cherries (about 1.5 lbs)– I use a combination of dark sweet and rainier. If using sour cherries, increase sugar to 3/4 or 1 cup depending how sweet you like it. I do not suggest using frozen cherries. The filling will turn out quite liquid-y and soupy.

Loaded sour cherry tree in back yard!

Sour cherries are more common in the Midwest than sweet cherries. This is because sour cherries compared to sweet cherries are less susceptible to different pests, don’t require a pollinator (two varieties), and growers don’t have to worry about birds eating the ripe cherries before harvest. Although many sour cherries can self-pollinate, cross-pollination does occur and often improves taste and yield. Self-pollinating trees are more common among home-growers, especially if they desire to own only one tree. There are two types of sour cherries. Amarelle cherries have yellow flesh and clear juice, while morello cherries have red flesh and red juice. Below are some common varieties of sour cherries.

Amarelle-type cherry (top) and Morello-type cherry (bottom)

Amarelle (yellow-fleshed with clear juice)

Early Richmond- a cherry that is small, round, and bright red. Tastes tart and acidic. Used for making jams, pies, jellies, and preserves. Early harvest.

Meteor- a cherry that is large with pale red skin. Flesh is mildly acidic. Late harvest.

Montmorency- a cherry that is medium to large, round, bright, and red-skinned. Mildly acidic and tart. Can be canned, but is considered to be the best cherry for pie. Early harvest.

Morello (red-fleshed with red juice)

English Morello- Large, tender, amd juicy with a deep red-black skin. Slightly tart. Freezes well and is an excellent choice for pie (contended only by Montmorency). Late harvest.

North Star- Bright red to mahogany skin with tart-juicy red flesh. Similar to Montmorency. Late harvest.

Harvest to Table – Descriptions of sour cherry varieties

Cherry_Varieties_for_the_Great_Lakes_and_Eastern_North_America – excellent PDF sheets with complete descriptions of all cherries that can be grown in Great Lakes zone.

Sour cherries are great for cooking. They are richly flavored and firm of flesh so that they don’t go mushy during cooking. Use sour cherries for pies, cobblers, clafoutis, dessert sauces, preserves, and jams.

There are two types of sour cherries: amarelle-type cherries are yellow-fleshed with clear juice; morello-type cherries are red-fleshed with red juice.

Fresh sour cherries—there are more than 300 varieties–come to market from mid-June through mid-August.

Here are a few sour cherry varieties to consider:

Early Richmond: a small, round, bright red cherry with a tart-acidy flavor. This is an amarelle-type cherry used for making jams, pies, jellies, and preserves. Early harvest.

English Morello: a deep red-black skinned cherry that is large, tender, and juicy. This morello-type cherry is slightly tart. It freezes well and is an excellent choice for pie. Late harvest.

Meteor: a large, pale red skinned cherry with yellow flesh that is mildly acidic; amarelle type. Late harvest.

Montmorency: considered the best pie cherry, this is a medium to large, round, bright red-skinned cherry with a soft, yellow flesh and a mildly acidic, tart flavor. Montmorency (named after a valley in the Ile-de-France) can be canned. It is an amarelle-type cherry. Early harvest.

North Star: similar to Montmorency with bright red to mahogany skin, tart-juicy red flesh. Morello-type cherry. Late harvest.

Also of interest:

How to Plant, Grow, Prune, and Harvest Cherries

Sweet Cherry Varieties

Rainer Sweet Cherry

Cherry: Kitchen Basics

Two main types of cherries are produced in the United States: sweet cherries and tart or ‘sour’ cherries. Washington, California, and Oregon are the primary sweet cherry producing states, accounting for more than 95 percent of the quantity produced nationwide (NASS 2018 Cherry Report). The primary tart cherry producing state is Michigan, which typically accounts for nearly 75 percent of tart cherry production. U.S. sweet cherry production (utilized) in 2018 totaled 344,400 tons valued at more than $637.7 million. Washington led the nation in sweet cherry production in 2017, with 245,000 tons (NASS 2019 Tree Fruit Report) The United States is the third-largest producer of cherries in the world. The European Union-27 is the leading cherry producer, followed by Turkey (FAS 2012). Additional Pacific Northwest cherry facts can be found on the Northwest Horticultural Council website.

“Bing” has been one of the most important sweet cherry varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest as recently as the 1990’s. “Bing” is so commonly known that it is used as a basis of comparison when discussing sweet cherry selections. For example, ripening time for a variety may be referred to as being a set number of days before or after “Bing”. In recent years, there has been more interest in improved varieties leading to extensive plantings of newer selections. Some traits that breeders are selecting for include early maturing, self-fertility, rain cracking resistance and stem characteristics. The majority of the newer varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest were produced or evaluated by the following breeding programs: WSU-IAREC – Prosser (Olmstead et al 2000); the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre (PARC) Summerland, B.C., Canada; and the OSU cultivar evaluation program. Additional sweet cherry variety and/or rootstock trials are carried out at WSU’s Western Washington Maritime Research and Extension Center in Mt. Vernon, WA and at WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, WA and at their associated Sunrise research orchard. A few other sweet cherry varieties grown in lesser amounts are a product of the New York State Agricultural Research Station at Geneva, NY and from Michigan State University’s breeding program.

The most commonly grown sweet cherry varieties in the Pacific Northwest are shown below in the thumbnail gallery and are arranged by color group. Click on the image to open the full view for information about each variety.

The breeding of dwarf sour cherries began in the 1940’s by Dr. Les Kerr. The past 50 years of breeding have combined cold hardiness, dwarf stature and good fruit quality into the final product. The cherry releases by the University of Saskatchewan are a great tasting cherry with high sugar content. They also have very good potential for mechanical harvesting which is necessary for commercial fruit production.

The sour cherry was created by crossing the Mongolian cherry with the sweet cherry. This happened quite frequently in nature. The sour cherry was then crossed to another Mongolian cherry, a new and improved variety to get the dwarf sour cherry.

Growth Habit

  • Trees range from 1.75 meters to 2.5 meters (5-8 feet) tall. Some suckering can happen with some varieties. This amount of suckering increases if the soil around the tree is continually tilled or disturbed. These trees are unique as they are not grafted and are on their own roots.
  • Sour cherries usually flower in mid to late May. These trees can be quite stunning in the spring as the flowers open slightly before the leaves emerge and the tree turns into a ball of white flowers.
  • The leaves are very glossy and shiny which adds some ornamental value
  • The fruit is usually ripe in early August and can range in colour from red to dark red to a black red. Cherry splitting is caused by dry followed by wet conditions during the ripening process

Planting

  • Plant in a hole that is big enough to accommodate the entire root mass of the tree. They should be planted about 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches) deeper than they were in the nursery container.
  • They should be planted about 1.5-2 m (5-7 feet) apart from each other or other plants.
  • Water immediately after planting and water well until established.

Pollination

  • Dwarf Sour Cherries are self-fertile and therefore do not need another plant for pollination. That means that if you only want one shrub in your yard you only need one, or you can have two of the same varieties and you will still get fruit.

Pruning

  • Prune in early spring before the bushes break dormancy. Diseased or damaged wood can be removed at any time.
  • Thinning cuts are better suited to cherries than heading back cut. A heading back cut (taking the top/tip portion off of a branch) tends to remove vegetative buds and the plant will have nothing to make new shoots from. Thinning cuts (when you remove an entire branch here and there) is better suited as you won’t be removing a specific kind of bud.
  • Never remove more than 25% of wood in one season.
  • Cherries can be selectively regenerated by removing some of the old branches every year and allowing the new branches to slowly take over

Harvesting

  • Cherries can be handpicked or shaken off. Just beware if you shake the cherries off you are liable to get lots of stems in with the fruit.
  • They should be picked in the cool parts of the morning or evening and refrigerated as soon after picking as possible.

Cultivars

Many years of breeding has resulted in the release of 6 dwarf sour cherry varieties. Each variety is different from one another in some way so it gives the homeowner a lot of choices.

Cultivars

Height

Suckers

Fruit Size

Fruit Colour

Maturity

Other

Carmine Jewel

2 m (6.5 feet)

Few

3.5 g

Black Red

Ripens earlier than the other varieties

Great for processing and eating

Romeo

2 m (6.5 feet)

Few

4.0 g

Dark Red

Ripens mid August

Can have some hardiness issues in rural areas

Valentine

2.5 m (8 feet)

Some

4.5 g

Medium Red

Ripens early to mid-August

Tart flavour, great for processing

Crimson Passion

1.75 m (5.5 feet)

Hardly any

6.0 g

Dark Red

Ripens Mid August

Some hardiness issues in rural areas, sweetest flavour

Juliet

2 m (6.5 feet)

Some

5.0 g

Dark Red

Ripens early to mid-August

Best for fresh eating out of the bunch, excellent flavour

Cupid

2.5 m (8 feet)

Few

6.5 g

Dark Red

Ripens about a week later than other varieties

Blooms later than the others, largest fruit

Pests

  • Deer, mice and voles have a bad habit of snacking on the bark and new growth of cherries. If you ever have a dead tree in the spring check the base of the trunk, if all of the bark has been removed in a complete circle you can thank the mice and voles for killing that tree.
  • Birds can sometimes eat or peck at the cherry fruit but they tend to prefer the smaller pin cherries to the sour cherries.
  • Cherry Fruit Fly or cherry maggots can sometimes be a problem but that is usually only noticeable in commercial situations. Cherries that have a maggot inside will float in a tub of water so they can be screened out that way.
  • Bacterial Canker is when gum covered cankers appear on branches and twigs. It’s most common on lower limbs and can cause the branches to die back during the summer.
  • Leaf Spot is when small purple spots appear on the leaves and the leaves turn yellow and fall off. This is not usually a big problem as the tree will come back healthy the next spring.
  • Other less common diseases include powdery mildew, American brown rot and verticillium wilt.

Need more information? Check out the sour cherry section of our Fruit Breeding program!

Top 10 Best Selling Cherries

1. Stella

This was the first self fertile sweet cherry to appear that set the standard for modern high yielding varieties for gardens and orchards. A large dark red, reliable, juicy cherry with excellent flavour. Pick late July. (EATING)

2. Sunburst

Large fruit, sweet with great flavour and texture. Pick late July. Self fertile. (EATING)

3. Morello

Large dark red cooking cherry. Very hardy & reliable. Excellent for jams & bottling and makes the most delicious cherry pie! Pick late July. Self fertile. (COOKING)

4. Sweetheart ®

Very precocious, firm with a good flavour. A good pollinator. Pick in late August. (EATING)

5. Summer Sun

Very hardy with compact growth. Dark red, firm fruits with exquisite flavour. Pick late July. (EATING)

6. Celeste ®

Large dark red fruit of excellent eating quality. Naturally very compact. Pick early July. Self fertile. (EATING)

7. Penny ®

An outstanding quality black cherry that is firm, large and very late in season. Pollinated by any other self fertile variety. Pick late August. (EATING)

8. Lapins `Cherokee`

Large black fruit, a garden favourite. Upright and strong growth habit. Pick late July. Self fertile. (EATING)

9. Merton Glory

Very large, sweet, heart shaped fruit. An outstanding early white cherry. Shapely compact trees. Pick early July. (EATING)

10. Early Rivers

Large heart-shaped, red to black fruit. One of the earliest to ripen. Pick early July. (EATING)

For all you cherry enthusiasts, this time of year is when you most likely peak. While there are nearly over 1000 types of cherries born and raised in the good U S of A, a few stand out in the midst of farmer’s markets and the glorious environment of the local Publix — or any grocery store if you unfortunately don’t have the aesthetic green-lettered logo nearby.

These varieties are separated into two major cherry-like kingdoms: sweet and sour. While some are made to eat fresh, others were brought into this world to crush it in the game of cooking. It just really depends on the cherry itself. Here’s your go-to for navigating the treacherous cherry world.

Bing Cherries

Perhaps the most famous of them all, Bing cherries encompass the vitality of the sweet cherry. Stumble upon any dark red spherical body in the produce section and you best believe — bada bing bada boom, Mr. Worldwide as I step in the room — it’s a Bing cherry.

While more acidic than its Rainier counterpart, it’s meant to be eaten as swiftly as grapes or a juicy summertime watermelon. The darker it appears, the riper this particular cherry is. These types of cherries won’t pucker your lips and have been shown to lower high blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a UC Davis School of Medicine research study.

However, if you’re feeling like making some sweet jam with these Bing cherries, opt for a cherry crepe breakfast. Here, you’ll get to enjoy the sight of them melting on a skillet into syrupy good-ness.

Rainier Cherries

If you thought about Mount Rainier as you read this, you’d be getting pretty close to its namesake origin — the mountain itself. There’s even a National Rainier Cherry Day dedicated to its deliciousness on the peak of the Rainier cherry harvest.

Though it’s also a sweet cherry, its difference from the Bing is its yellowish golden tint. While you could still eat these by the mouthful, Rainer cherry salads are prime for its candied nature. Counteract the sweet with the salty tang of goat cheese and crunch of pecans and you’re ready to go.

Queen (Royal) Anne Cherries

Royal Anne cherries are the sneakiest of the bunch. Although they appear to have the same light-colored blush of Rainier cherries, one bite into this bad boy and the tart aftertaste will snap you right out of it.

These are most well-known for being used to make the Maraschino cherries that established the “cherry on top” saying — or the classic “tying a cherry knot with your tongue” rite-of-passage. Well, after being soaked in salt and sweetener, that is.

Royal Anne cherries are also great for baking, serving as the middle ground between the true sweet and sour feud. If you’re a cream-filled baked donut kind of person, look no further than this brunch-y twist to the cherry donut.

Montmorency Cherries

Now onto the sour cherries. Whether it be dried, frozen, canned or fresh, Montmorency can be enjoyed year-round. With over 90% of cherries consumed in the U.S. also being produced in the US — what’s up, Michigan? — Montmorency cherries are here to stay.

As a result, this type of cherry is versatile in smoothies, trail mixes, and pastries. But there’s no justice in stopping there when apple and cherry crisps are calling your name. Plus, it boasts benefits of pain relief and muscle recovery. Talk about doing the most.

Morello Cherries

And now, The crème de la crème. The pièce de résistance. The cherry to top all the others: Morello. There’s a reason they’re nicknamed the “pie cherries” — they’re meant to be jammed into a latticed pie and whipped up warm for Thanksgiving dinners. Since Morello cherries lack the dry sweetness of cherries such as the Bing, more sugar and starch will be needed to provide the right consistency. The things you do for the love of cherry pie.

While not an exhaustive list, these options will ease you into the colorful world of nutrient-rich juiciness. Proving they’re more than an emoji, cherries have a well-roundedness that’s sure to keep you tongue-tied.

You know the “George Washington chopped down a cherry tree” story you heard a million times in school? Well, turns out that’s a total myth.

However, if the former president *did* cut down a cherry tree, it’s kind of hard to blame him for it. The fruit is insanely delicious (cherry pie is bae) and actually has bona fide health-boosting properties.

“Cherries supply a good source of fiber and are rich in health-promoting antioxidants,” says Jill Keene, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer in New York City. But you can also use cherries in targeted ways, namely to improve sleep and post-exercise recovery, she says. Here are the biggest benefits of cherries, according to Keene:

1. They can help promote healthy weight management

One cup of fresh cherries has 100 calories and three grams of fiber. While fruit in general—especially higher sugar picks like cherries—has been maligned, there’s no reason to fear fruit. Eating more fiber via fruit is a good thing: ramping up fiber intake is associated with weight loss, research in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

2. They won’t mess with your blood sugar

“Cherries are lower on the glycemic index, meaning they spike your blood sugar less than many other fruits,” says Keene. In a review on 29 studies on the benefits of cherries, researchers found that, among other perks, the fruit lowered HbA1c levels (a measurement of average blood sugar over a period of three months) in those who had type 2 diabetes.

3. They may help boost your post-workout recovery

“Cherries contain anti-inflammatory antioxidant compounds that research shows can help support muscle recovery after a hard workout,” says Keene. One small study published in the European Journal of Sports Science in 2019 on 20 women found that cherry concentrate lead to less muscle soreness post-workout. The benefits are better than just being more comfortable—cherries may help you bounce back faster so you’re ready to crush your next spin class or strength sesh.

4. They can help you sleep better

Fun fact about cherries—they’re a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that your body releases at night that helps you wind down and drift off, says Keene. In a small study on older adults, people who drank two eight-ounce glasses of cherry juice per day slept a full 85 minutes longer compared to a placebo.

5. Cherries can fight inflammation

Inflammation is widely considered one of the top threats to your health, increasing the likelihood of developing chronic disease. The fruit packs antioxidants like vitamins C and E as well as carotenoids and polyphenols, all of which help quash damaging free radicals and help neutralize inflammation in your body.

Photo: Getty Images / Filonmar

How to reap the benefits of cherries

Cherry season hits its height from June through August. “This is the best way to enjoy cherries because it supplies you with fiber to slow digestion,” says Keene. You can typically buy two types: sweet (Bing) and tart or sour. Sweet are usually a deep red color, while tart has a lighter red or even yellow hue.

Of course, when it’s off-season (ahem, now), you can buy frozen cherries to get the same amount of nutrients for less cost. You can also buy dried cherries all year round—just look for versions without added sugar. If you’re going the cherry juice route, look for unsweetened tart cherry juice. And keep in mind that sipping the juice is going to supply more sugar compared to the fresh fruit (and no fiber).

Now that you’re on board with eating more cherries, here’s how to make it happen:

  • Top overnight oats: Keene recommends making a batch of creamy overnight oats and then topping it with pitted cherry halves in the morning. You can also throw on a few frozen cherries before work—they’ll defrost enough by the time you get to your desk.
  • Pair with almonds: Cherries may be healthy, but the best way to eat them is with other foods, says Keene. “I recommend pairing fruit with a source of protein or fat to stabilize blood sugar,” she says. Cherries and almonds or pistachios are a great match or, if you’re doing dairy, try cherries and a cheese stick.
  • Whirl in a smoothie: Throw frozen cherries into a blender, and you won’t even need ice. Without the risk of watering it down, you’ll get a more flavor-packed sip. Try it with a coconut water or milk base or go with almond milk and a dollop of nut butter for a pb+j-inspired smoothie. Or try Haylie Duff’s go-to cherry chocolate smoothie.
  • Eat frozen: Pop frozen cherries straight from the bag, says Keene—yep, similar to your other fave, frozen grapes.
  • Top on toast: Slather a piece of toast with natural nut butter, add pitted cherry halves, and top with Greek yogurt. So yum.

When all else fails…just eat them as they are. Your bod will thank you!

Other produce with surprising benefits: sweet potatoes (yup!) and cacao.

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