Like our friend the plum from last week, the apricot is from the family Prunus. Originally thought to originate in China from as far back as 3000 BC, the apricot came to the Western world via Armenia. Apricots are now cultivated in all parts of the world, but are still an extremely important crop in the Middle East, particularly Iran where dried apricots have been an important commodity for centuries. Check the packaging on dried apricots you purchase in the supermarket – they likely come from Iran or Turkey.
Apricots are high in beta-carotene as well as Vitamin A. They are high in fibre and the dried version of the fruit is considered a good treatment for constipation. High in the anti-oxidant caretenoid, apricots may help lower bad cholesterol and protect against cancer. The kernal or pit of the apricot also has many uses; dried and ground, it becomes the basis for the Italian amaretti cookie, and apricot kernal oil is the main ingredient in the liqueur Disaronno Amaretto. Apricot kernal was also once incorrectly thought to cure certain types of cancer, but because it contains toxic levels of cyanide, it was not considered an effective treatment for that disease.
When purchasing apricots, look for fruits that are a rich orange colour and that are slightly soft to the touch. If eating apricots for their health benefits, note that the riper the fruit the higher the level of anti-oxidants.