Spring brings rebirth, rejuvenation, and refreshing fruits that are missed during winter. As white and gray landscapes give way to green and blue ones, trees bloom with the vibrant colors of their fruit, vines hang heavy with juicy goodness, and plants thrust their berries up for picking. This is the time of year fruit salads and desserts are born, when meats are grilled again and sweet fruits are grilled alongside. Farmers’ markets, in their brilliant colors, offers the glory of fresh, ripe fruit perfect for creating any dish the taste buds can imagine and the nutrition that bodies require.
Apricots should be plump, firm and a uniform golden orange color. They are a stone fruit that can be stored in the refrigerator for three to five days. They are rich in natural sugars, vitamins A and C, riboflavin and niacin, as well as being a good source of calcium, potassium and iron. Additionally, the betacarotene in the apricot helps prevent heart disease. Apricots are often dried, cooked into pastries or with meats such as lamb, or eaten as jam. An added benefit of this fruit is its seed, which is a nut and has a high content of the vitamin Laetrile (B17) which has shown in studies to be very effective at preventing cancer and shrinking tumors.
A late spring and summer fruit, fresh cantaloupe can be found at the farmers’ market (depending on your location) around June. Cantaloupe is most often paired with other melons in a melon salad. They are rich in vitamins C and A, and like all fruit that is rich in vitamin A, also rich in beta-carotenes and other anti-oxidants. Cantaloupe is also a good source of potassium and the dietary carotenoid, zeaxanthin, which is thought to protect the eyes from aging and age-related macular degeneration.
Another late spring fruit, cherries have a very short growing season and in some parts of the country, they are the first tree fruit to ripen. There are two important culivars, the sweet (wild) cherry and the tart (sour) cherry. Cherries contain anthocyanins which are powerful anti-oxidants and have been found in studies to have anti-inflammatory properties. They are also high in other anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, the minerals potassium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese, and melatonin which soothes brain neurons alleviating neurosis, insomnia and headaches.
Some grape cultivars peak in June, though the majority are harvested in the summer. Grapes are called the “queen of the fruit” and are a storehouse of essential nutrients. They contain an important phytochemical compound, resveratrol, which has been shown to reduce the risk of several cancers, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s, degenerative nerve disease, fungal and viral infections. Grapes also contain a number of anti-oxidants, such as anthocyanins in red grapes and catechins in white/green grapes. They are a rich source of several minerals, including potassium, iron, copper, and manganese, as well as several vitamins – vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and B-complex vitamins.
Melons are a favorite spring and summer fruit, ripe with the juiciness that refreshes in the heat. Honeydews should be nearly spherical with a waxy skin and should feel heavy for their size. This fruit is an excellent source of potassium and vitamin C. In fact, one serving provides nearly half the vitamin C intake for one day.
It may be a citrus fruit, or not, depending on who you talk to. The kumquat is about the size of an olive and looks like a citrus fruit, but the peel can be eaten (unlike citrus fruits) and is actually the sweet part of the fruit. Kumquats are great served in a fruit punch, jam or eaten whole right off the tree. They have lots of health benefits. One serving of kumquat can provide 17% of the daily recommended intake of fiber and 73% of vitamin C. They are rich in betacarotenes, anti-oxidants, the B-complex vitamins, and minerals such as potassium, iron, manganese, calcium and zinc.
The lime is a small green citrus fruit, slightly less tart than a lemon. Limes are used for a number of cooking methods. Key Limes, named for the Florida Keys where they are is native, are used in making key lime pie. Limes can be used in place of salt to season seafood, chicken and pork, and limes are used for flavoring in water, tea, and a number of alcoholic beverages. Limes are high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, calcium and iron.
The lychee, or litchi, is a tropical fruit with a somewhat hard outer shell. The inner pulp is the sweet part of the fruit. Lychees are most often eaten out of the shell. Several restaurants, bars and chefs, however, have developed drinks and dishes using fresh lychees. This fruit, like citrus fruit, is very high in vitamin C. It is also high in B-complex vitamins which help the body metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fat. Lychee fruit are also a good source of potassium and copper, both essential vitamins for the cardiovascular system.
The mango is one of a new category of fruit called “super fruit”. It is rich in potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, beta-carotenes, alpha-carotenes and copper. Recent studies suggest that the anti-oxidant properties of mangoes can protect against colon, breast, leukemia and prostate cancers. Vitamin A is essential for good vision and is an anti-oxidant when found in conjunction with beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. Vitamin C helps protect against infections and harmful oxygen-free radicals. Vitamin B-6 is required for certain hormone production in the brain and to control homocystiene levels in the blood which may otherwise be harmful. Mangoes can be eaten raw, in fruit salad, in smoothies and other beverages, or as a relish with a number of meats, especially chicken, pork, and fish.
Oranges could be considered another super fruit. They contain an impressive amount of vitamins and minerals. Oranges are high in vitamin C and vitamin, potassium and calcium. They also contain high levels of dietary fiber, phytochemicals, and anti-oxidants, as well as B-complex vitamins. Because of their high level of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, oranges are known to be helpful in the reduction of the risk of cancers, heart disease, obesity and chronic diseases like arthritis. Oranges are often ingested as orange juice, as well as eaten raw, or cooked as seasoning, garnishes or relishes for a variety of meats.
The pineapple fruit is actually many smaller fruits that have fused together around a central core. It belongs to the bromeliad family. Pineapple pairs very well with ham and is popular during holidays when ham is served. It also makes an excellent addition to fruit salad, is great in juice, and is often a mixer in alcoholic beverages. Pineapple is another excellent fruit to add to any diet. It contains dietary fiber, vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, copper, manganese and potassium. It has also been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties.
Rhubarb is probably best known for making rhubarb pie. The stalks of the plant are the part used for cooking as there is not actually a fruit in the traditional sense. Rhubarb can also be eaten raw with lots of sugar or honey to counterbalance its tartness or cooked into jams and sauces. Rhubarb is botanically a vegetable but in 1947 a US court classified it as a fruit because of its uses in pies, jams and sauces. Rhubarb has a high content of vitamn A and dietary fiber. It has been found to reduce the risk of cancer, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
The strawberry has many cultivars that range from very sweet to acidic. Most varieties purchased at stores or farmers’ markets are the sweet kind that can be used in a number of dishes, though popularly in fruit salad, smoothies, ice cream, and pastries. Strawberries are a nutrient-rich fruit that contain many essential phyto-chemicals which help fight cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological disease. They are rich in vitamin A, beta-carotene and other anti-oxidants, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, and several minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, iodine, and potassium.
Spring brings with it a large variety of juicy, delicious fruit to pick up at the farmers’ market. Fresh fruit, fruit juices, and fruit salad mark the coming of spring and the beginning of longer days, warmer temperatures and summer just behind. As spring gives way to summer, more fresh fruit will come into season, such as watermelons and blueberries, more wonderful fruit to add a refreshing touch to every meal.