Apricots are soft, sweet, juicy, and mostly recognized for their fuzzy skin.

This little orange colored fruit is packed with nutrients and great for snacking. Once you get past the giant plum-like seed casing in the middle, every bite is a delight. Let's take at look at this fuzzy little fruit and see where it came from and a few other interesting facts.

The apricot is the fruit produced on a rather scrawny looking tree. The tree canopy spreads out like thin arms, producing a massive amount of fruit. The actual apricot is similar in size to a small peach. The orange color may appear the shade of a basketball, and will often be darker orange or even red on the side more exposed to the sun. The single seed is enclosed in a hard pit often called a 'stone.' If you look at the pit, you will see three ridges running down one side, which is where the new plant breaks through once it sprouts.

Nutritional Value

Full of beta-carotene, giving them their orange color, and packed with fiber, apricots are a great addition to any diet. Apricot kernels contain between 2% and 2.5% hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) which, contrary to popular belief, is not enough to be harmful if consumed. The seed also contains high levels of cyanogenic glycosides which can help treat cancer and was used to treat tumors in the early 5th century. In more recent years, studies have shown that treating prostate cancers with the amygdalin found in apricot seeds may induce reduction in cancer cells.

If you are looking for heart healthy fruit, apricots are your best friend. Compared to other foods, apricots possess the highest levels of carotenoids which can help prevent heart disease and even lower bad cholesterol levels. While these are great benefits to have, other studies have shown that apricots are best when consumed in moderation and excess intake could actually be harmful to your body. As in most consumption, heed the advice "do all things in moderation."

Preparation and Cooking

Snacking on dried apricots is a great way to add a sweet treat to your day; anytime anywhere. Throw a handful in with your cereal, or top a crisp salad with dried apricots to add an extra flavor profile to your dish. Kids especially like the surprisingly fuzzy little texture of dried apricots, along with the super sweet taste. For an extra treat, dip dried apricots in a bit of melted chocolate.

Fresh apricots can be reduced in a sauce to be used as a glaze for pecan crusted chicken. Create a simple apricot sauce to accompany grilled pork. Dice up fresh apricot for a luau inspired salad. You can even halve apricots and grill them, just like you would peaches or pineapples. Consider mashing apricots to add to pan breads for a completely different spin on baking.

No matter how you use them, apricots are a delicious and healthy way to add some sweetness to your meals, without picking up the sugar bowl. Buy some today and try to incorporate them into your daily diet. You will feel good knowing you are boosting your nutrition level with every sweet bite.

The Fuzzy Apricot

Apricots have been cultivated in Armenia since ancient times and it is thought to be native to the area. However, other studies and excavations of ancient sites have shown that apricots have been farmed in both ancient China and India almost 1,000 years prior to the Armenians. You'll find apricot groves in warm climates in the United States, even growing wild. The wild versions are still edible, though quite a bit smaller. If you live in a warm region, you may experience your first wild apricot sighting when you spot squirrels running around with small 'basketballs' in their mouth.

Apricots are in the same family as plums. The full species and subgenus is Prunus armeniaca, which, when translated is "Armenian Prune." Apricots are susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases. One of the biggest enemies of the apricot tree is the nematode, which is why the valuable seed is grown inside the pit to make sure a new generation of apricot survives in the wild; a little lesson in nature protecting itself.

Because their natural sugars help preserve the fruit, much like honey and dried dates found in the ancient Egyptian tombs, dried apricots can last for several centuries without spoiling. The kernels of the apricot grown in some regions are so sweet they may be a substitute for almonds. Amaretto liqueur and amaretti biscotti, two Italian favorites, are often flavored with apricot extract rather than almonds to save on costs.

Apricot -prunus armeniaca (Rosaceae) - apricot juice, dried apricot, apricot brandy, apricot liqueur - Varieties: Riland, Tilton, Blenheim, Royal, Chinese.