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All About Cherries

The leading producer of tart cherries is Michigan, producing 70 to 75 percent of the crop each year. Utah grows about 8 percent of the crop, New York, about 5 percent, Wisconsin, 4 percent. Washington, Oregon and Pennsylvania also have commercial crops of tart cherries. The amount of tart cherries produced each year varies, depending on a number of factors, including the age of the trees and weather conditions. Generally, Michigan produces 200 to 250 million pounds of tart cherries; the U.S. crop is 275 to 350 million pounds.

The major variety of tart cherry grown in the United States is the Montmorency. It has been cultivated in the United States for more than a century because the fruit is excellent for pies, preserves, jellies, juice and other products.

Tart cherries, which are sometimes called pie cherries or sour cherries, are seldom sold fresh; they generally are canned or frozen shortly after harvesting for use in products throughout the year.

Sweet cherries primarily are grown in the Pacific Coast states, but Michigan joins the top four producers, harvesting about 20 percent of the crop each year. Michigan produces about 50 million pounds of sweet cherries. The total U.S. production of sweet cherries is about 370 million pounds; about 175 million pounds of that is processed and packed as frozen or canned sweet cherries or as maraschino or glacé cherries.

The most famous sweet cherry variety is the Bing cherry. However, there are more than 1,000 varieties of sweet cherries. Bing cherries are a dark red/burgundy color. There also are light sweet cherry varieties, such as Rainier and Queen Anne.

Although a cherry tree can grow almost anywhere, the quantity and quality of its fruit depends on specific climatic conditions. For example, in Michigan, the orchards are concentrated along Lake Michigan, where the lake tempers the winter winds and cools the orchards in summer.

Both tart and sweet cherries ripen in July; the third week of July is usually the peak of the harvest.

There are about 7,000 cherries on an average tart cherry tree (the number varies depending on the age of the tree, weather and growing conditions), and it takes about 250 cherries to make a cherry pie, so each tree potentially could produce enough cherries for 28 pies.

February is National Cherry Month. Consumers are eager to buy cherry products in February to help celebrate a variety of special days during the month, including Presidents' Day, Valentine's Day and Paczki Day, (Fat Tuesday).

The average U.S. citizen consumes about one pound of tart cherries per year. That is more than 260 million pounds per year.

According to research conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, and Institut für Zoologie und Anthropologie, Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany: 1

  • Scientists have discovered high levels (3.5 ng/g) of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency tart cherries.
  • Melatonin, which is produced naturally by the body’s pineal gland, is a potent free radical scavenger and broad-spectrum antioxidant that also helps regulate the sleep cycle.
  • The aging process and other factors reduce the amount of melatonin that the body produces.
  • Researchers determined that the consumption of Montmorency tart cherries can significantly increase the level of melatonin in the body.
  • The increased level of melatonin can improve the body’s ability to destroy free radicals, slow the aging process and improve sleep.
  • In addition to its antioxidative properties, melatonin has been shown to possess antiinflammatory properties.
1 Burkhardt, S., Tan, D., Manchester, L., Hardeland, R. and Reiter, R. Detection and Quantifi cation of the Antioxidant Melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton Tart Cherries. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2001, Volume 49, Number 10, Pages 4898-4902.