The Montmorency cherry (or tart cherry) is the most popular sour cherry in the United States and Canada and is extensively used in cherry pies, jams, preserves and as a juice, among other uses. Montmorency cherries are less sweet than regular cherries, but they have better health benefits than sweet varieties like Marasca cherries.
While both cherries have a variety of phytochemicals contributing both color and antioxidant activity to the fruit, tart cherries contain more. For instance, both sweet and tart cherries are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Tart cherries also contain vitamin A. Here are some of the properties of these tart cherries.
- Strong antioxidants: Montmorency cherries’ anthocyanins and other antioxidant compounds provide the consumer with up to 5000 – 8000 ORAC units per one-ounce serving, depending on the concentration. ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities in food, and 5000 – 8000 ORAC units equal the entire day’s recommendation of antioxidants for an average adult.
- Pain relief: The antioxidants in Montmorency cherries may help ease the pain of arthritis and osteoarthritis. In fact, anthocyanins specifically have been compared to ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen for their anti-inflammatory properties. They may also reduce the uric acid and the pain related to gout.
- Post-exercise recovery: Recent studies have shown that Montmorency cherry consumption effectively reduces inflammation, muscle damage, and muscle soreness following bouts of exercise. It also accelerates exercise recovery.
- Improved sleep: Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Tart cherry juice may also increase the availability of tryptophan, essential amino acid and a precursor to serotonin, which helps with sleep. According to studies, consuming tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks helps increase sleep time by about 84 minutes among older adults with insomnia compared to the placebo. Their sleep tended to be more restful, too.
The following are potential benefits of tart cherries that need further support outside of the laboratory.
- On cardiovascular disease risk: Tart cherries may reduce cardiovascular disease risk due to its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Animal studies have shown a reduction in unhealthy triglyceride levels, but more research in humans is needed.
- Possible anti-cancer properties: The antioxidant compounds found in tart cherries have been shown to reduce cancer growth and proliferation in cell cultures in laboratory studies. This has been demonstrated in human colon cancer cell lines, but more research is needed to establish effectiveness in humans outside of the lab.
- On diabetes: Studies in animals have shown that cherries lower body weight and abdominal fat, which is the type of fat linked with increased heart disease risk, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. For now, we are waiting for the outcomes in human studies.
Cherries are a seasonal product, available in June and July, but in order to get all the benefits from tart cherries year-round, you can purchase cherry juice and dried cherries, which have similar properties to fresh cherries. When purchasing tart cherry juice, aim for 100% juice and avoid juice from concentrate. Frozen cherries’ antioxidant content is somewhat lower than that of fresh cherries; canned cherries’ antioxidant content is lower still, but remains significant.
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The recipe of the week is a delicious way to get your daily quota of antioxidants by the end of breakfast. Enjoy!
- 1 cup Montmorency tart cherries
- 1/2 cup Montmorency tart cherry juice (100% juice)
- 1 cup fresh or partially frozen strawberries
- 3 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate
- 1/2 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt (or vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt)
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- Ground nutmeg, to taste
- Combine all ingredients, except nutmeg, in a blender and whip until smooth.
- Pour into glasses and sprinkle with nutmeg.
Karen Alexander, MS, RDN, LD/N