The apricot (scientific name Prunus armeniaca), is a stone fruit belonging to the Rosaceae family. Known as the Armenian plum in Latin, the fruit has a resemblance to the peach, but unlike the peach, apricot is somewhat smaller and does hot have hairiness when ripe. The fruit usually has a rich yellow to yellowish orange color having a smooth or velvety texture and round to oblong shape.
Although the native of the fruit remains vague, apricot has a long and interesting history. It is generally believed that the origins of apricot are in China, where the fruit has been cultivated for food as well as for its therapeutic properties for more than 4,000 years. The apricot tree has also been grown in neighboring India and Tibet since times immemorial. According to ancient records, the Hunzas, who inhabited the Himalayan Mountains in the northern regions of present-day Pakistan and were acknowledged for their vigor and long life span, cultivated and treasured apricot for its aptitude to foster health for more than 1500 years. Even the Greek physicians valued apricot as a food medication, while the Romans offered the fruit to Venus, their Goddess of Love. Apricot was brought in Europe during the reign of the Alexander the Great. In the Middle East nations, the fruit is very popular and valued for its pleasant flavor as well as its stimulating aroma.
Over several centuries, the fruit, kernels, oil and flowers of the apricot have been used by people across the globe for their therapeutic properties. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners prepared a legendary medicine with the kernel of this fruit and called it ‘Apricot Gold’. This wonder medicine was prepared with kernels of apricot grown in particular regions and was believed to possess the powers to prolong life. The Chinese were also of the opinion that apricot was also effective in treating various ailments pertaining to the womenfolk. As a result, the white flowers of the apricot tree constituted a common element in the cosmetics used by women in China.
An essential oil similar to that extracted from almonds is extracted from the large and flat kernels of the apricot fruits. This oil possesses several remedial properties and has been extensively used as sedatives and antispasmodic agents to alleviate strained muscles. The demulcent and soothing characteristics of this oil have also proved to be effective in curing wounds, eliminating worms from the body as well as an all-purpose tonic. It is important to note that the kernels of some varieties of apricot are sweet, though they are poisonous until roasted.
Similar to apples or oranges, an assortment of apricots is available. However, when you go to buy them in your neighborhood supermarket of fruit stand, you are likely to find just one or two varieties of the fruit depending on the locality of your residence. All the varieties of apricot are small, golden-orange fruits and possess common remedial properties or offer similar health benefits. Hence, apart from the taste, there is little or really nothing to choose from among the different varieties of apricot.
To some extent, apricots are sharp-tasting, but have a variety of uses. They may be used in different recipes and may be eaten fresh taken right from the fruit stands. They can also be preserved by canning or drying. Apricot is extensively used to prepare jams and often to flavor liqueurs. A number of consumers enjoy apricots as a dried fruit. In fact, dried apricots last longer and can be simply packed away as a snack for dieters on the go. When ingested as a dried fruit, the apricot provides even more nutritional benefits compared to consuming the fruit fresh.
In addition, dried apricots are also available more extensively and throughout the year. In comparison, fresh apricots are more of a seasonal fruit and available depending on your locality. If you include sufficient amount of fresh or dried apricots in your diet plans, it will not only prove to be useful for your health, but also help you in maintaining a healthy weight.
Fresh apricots are a good source of a number of vitamins – vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, and also have high natural-sugar content. In addition, apricots are an excellent source of iron and potassium as well as an excellent source of beta-carotene. Actually, if you eat two to three apricots every day, they will provide you with as much as 50 per cent of your daily vitamin requirements. It is important to note that apricots do not enclose any fat and an insignificant amount of carbohydrates, for instance, you will find around 8g of carbohydrates in every two apricots and of these two are dietary fibers. The assortment of nourishments present in apricots is also very useful for good vision. In addition, they also help in avoiding heart ailments and other diseases. This fruit also encloses rich antioxidant content, including lycopene that helps in endorsing state of being healthy in body and mind as well as reinforcing the immune system. As apricots contain adequate dietary fibers, consumption of the fruit results in healthy digestion.
In addition, the fresh apricot fruit also contains useful active ingredients, such as vitamin K and vitamin B1 (thiamine). Scientists have also been able to isolate some volatile compounds, organic acids, norisoprenoids, terpenoids and some esters from fresh apricots. It has also been found that the apricot kernels enclose cyanogenic glycoside amygdalin.
In fact, dried apricots enclose an even higher concentration of vitamins and nutrients, but are also slightly higher in carbohydrates. Owing to the high fiber to volume ratio, dried apricots are sometimes used to relieve constipation or induce diarrhea. The benefits can be seen after eating as few as three of these fruits. Apricots are extensively used in baking cakes and pies, the fruits can be relished when taken with ice cream or sorbets and yogurt, used to prepare jams or jellies, used as a sauce or as a fruit topping for salads, cereal, pancakes as well as other foodstuffs.
Before consuming dried apricots, people who have allergic reactions to certain substances should bear in mind that the dried fruits are generally processed with sulphites with a view to enhance their shelf live and provide them a vivid coloring. There have been a number of instances where hypersensitivity to apricot kernels has been reported. In such cases, one needs to stop taking dried apricots if he or she experiences any skin rash or allergic conditions. Normally, dried apricots that are not processed have a comparatively darker color and may be more easily available in the health food stores. Apricots form an excellent choice to complete the recommended five-a-day fruit servings and are also recommended for dieters or people who are keen to eat healthy as well as enjoy the health benefits offered by this fruit.
It may be noted that it is not appropriate to prepare any juice with apricot. Nevertheless, the fruit can be combined with other fruits to prepared mixed juices. Fresh apricot fruits have a suave and sweet flavor, a taste that is something like a blend of plum and peach. Unripe or raw apricots taste acidic or somewhat tart, but this diminishes as the fruit matures and ripens. This is because as the fruit ripens, the amount of natural sugars enclosed by it enhances. The content of vitamin A in ripened apricots is twice as much as in the raw fruits.
In addition to the apricot fruit, which is versatile and can be eaten fresh, dried or used in numerous recipes, extracts from the fruit and the apricot oil are used for making scrubs, moisturizers and several herbal cosmetic products. The kernels of the apricot cultivated in central Asia and in the Mediterranean region have a very sweet flavor and they are often substituted for almonds. In fact, the Italian liqueur Amaretto and amaretti biscotti are flavored with extract of apricot kernels, instead of almonds. In many places, the oil pressed from the kernels of the fruits has been used as cooking oil.
Several studies have demonstrated that among all foods, apricots enclose the highest levels and widest variety of carotenoids, antioxidants that help prevent heart disease, reduce ‘bad cholesterol‘ levels and also protect against cancer. In traditional Chinese medicine, apricots are considered useful in restoring body fluids, detoxifying, and quenching thirst. In addition, apricots are full of nourishments that can treat anemia, skin disorders, fevers, earache, indigestion as well as constipation.
Therapeutic benefits of apricots
- The oil extracted from apricot fruits is considered to be effective in treating earaches.
- Apricot oil is also believed to be effective in rejuvenating the skin by controlling sebum and melanin.
- The oil extracted from the apricot kernel is a potent nourishing and lubricating agent; hence it is used topically on the skin. Apricot oil constitutes the main ingredient in numerous products, such as facial masks, body lotions, shampoos and lip-guards.
- The juice extracted from fresh apricots is useful for people suffering from fever. This juice is full of vitamins, minerals, water and vigorous calories and is an ideal antidote for sickness. The elements enclosed in apricots assist in detoxification by flushing out toxins from the body.
- Fresh apricot juice blended with honey or glucose is considered to be an extremely calm drink and is very useful if taken during fevers. It not only satiates thirst, but also helps the body get rid of the waste materials. In addition, the drink tones up the eyes and nurtures the stomach, liver, heart and the nerves by providing the essential vitamins and minerals.
- The oil extracted from apricot kernels is frequently used for massaging the body and maintaining the health and glow of the skin. Apricot oil is effective for treating skin disorders, such as itching, scabies and eczema.
- Fresh juice prepared from apricot leaves is effective in curing skin ailments. This juice is applied externally to treat eczema, sunburn, scabies and itching of the skin caused by exposure to cold.
- Essential minerals, such as iron and copper, enclosed in apricot assist in hemoglobin formation and, hence, the fruit is very useful for anemic people.
- Apricot contains lycopene and high beta-carotene that makes the fruit an ideal health food. Consuming apricots in measured quantity is beneficial for protecting the eyes and the heart. In addition, apricots are also effective in preventing the LDL in cholesterol from being oxidized. This, in turn, helps improve cardiac health.
- Vitamin A enclosed in apricots help in improving eyesight.
- Constipation: Apricot is highly appreciated as well as extensively used as a mild laxative and is useful in treating constipation. This property of the fruit is attributed to the cellulose and pectin enclosed by it. In fact, the cellulose contained by apricot is not digested and functions as roughage – the indigestible portion of any food that aids in bowel movements. Pectin, on the other hand, soaks up and preserves water, in that way helps in adding to the mass of faeces and also stimulating the bowel movement. People suffering from recurrent constipation may benefit immensely if they regularly consume apricot. Normally, optimum benefits can be experienced following the consumption of six to eight apricots daily.
- Indigestion: Apricots generate an alkaline reaction in our system. The fruit helps in digestion provided it is eaten before a meal. In addition, a marmalade prepared from organically cultivated fruits is effective in treating nervous indigestion.
Apricots form a valuable resource for potent antioxidants that fight against the harm caused by the free radicals to the cells. In fact, free radicals may also damage the lenses in the eyes and regular consumption of apricots will not only protect the eyes from the invasion of free radicals, but also improve the eyesight.
- Free radicals can do a number of harms to the eyes. For instance, they may cause cataracts, cause macular degeneration and even damage the blood supply to the eyes. Consuming apricots that are rich in vitamin A content regularly can help to avert such problems.
- Apricots also have rich beta-carotene contents which enables them to function as potent antioxidants, thereby lowering the hazards of cardiac problems, strokes and somewhat even avoid development of cancer.
- Dried apricots contain plenty of potassium; hence eating some of them may help in avoiding hypertension.
- Apricots enclose soluble fiber that regulates the intensity of sugar in our system and helps to avoid constipation.
- The health advantages of consuming apricots include energy build up along with supply valuable minerals, such as iron, to the body.
- The oil obtained from the kernels of the apricot fruits is used to promote and take care of the skin, alleviate pain and stress. It is thought that massages with apricot oil balances the nervous system and may smoothen out any form of emotional disharmony.
In addition to the benefits of consuming apricots mentioned above, beta-carotene and lycopene present in this fruit, also referred to as the ‘golden apple’ by the Chinese, assists in protecting LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol from being oxidized. This action of beta-carotene and lycopene helps to put off heart ailments, such as strokes, heart failures and other cardio-vascular diseases.
The apricot seed is basically a nut, similar to any other nuts, and rich in protein and fat content. In addition, apricots are also highly rich in vitamin B17, also called Laetrile, content. It is said that consuming this seed or nut daily is very effective in thwarting development of cancer. It is important to note that cancer patients who have been taking the Laetrile Cancer Therapy have confirmed that their tumor have reduced in size after taking vitamin B17 doses. These seeds are bitter to taste. Hence, they may be sliced minutely or pounded and swallowed with a teaspoonful of honey.
Dietary benefits of apricot
Since times immemorial, people have appreciated the apricot fruit for its vastly health-building properties. The fresh apricot fruit has a rich content of easily-digestible natural sugars, vitamins A and C, riboflavin (B2) as well as niacin (B3). In addition, the fruit, often referred to as the ‘golden apple’ by the ancient Chinese, encloses valuable minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, iron and traces of sodium, sulphur, manganese, cobalt and bromine.
The apricot is a healthy fruit and has very little calories. Hence, the fruit not only provides the body with the much needed vitamins, but it also fits in well and often is a necessary addition to any diet. In fact, a serving of three medium-sized fresh apricots (35g/ea) contains only 50 calories and provides an excellent source of vitamin A and C.
Very often people dry the apricot fruits and use them extensively in several recipes, including preparation of pastry and jam. The calorie content in apricots multiplies several times over when dried. At the same time, the amount of calcium, phosphorus and iron also increased considerably.
Precautions of apricot consumption
Fresh apricots enclose a small quantity of oxalates and, hence, people having a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones should not eat too much apricots. On the other hand, dried apricots enclose sulfur-containing compounds, such as sulfur dioxide, which may result in unpleasant reactions in individuals suffering from asthma.
Consuming apricots in excess has demonstrated nervous system depression owing to the presence of amygdalin in the fruit. Worse still, eating this fruit in surplus may also result in respiratory failure. Eating raw or unripe apricots is also harmful for the body, as it may lead to gastric disorder.
Calendula and apricot lotion
Buttermilk and calendula lotion is apt for all types of skin and is prepared using the following ingredients:
- 2 teaspoonfuls (10 ml) of buttermilk
- 1/2 teaspoonful (2.5 ml) of almond oil
- 2 teaspoonfuls (10 ml) of apricot oil
- 1 teaspoonful (5 ml) of calendula infusion
Making this moisturizer is very simple. Just put all the ingredients into a jar and seal the lid tightly. Shake the mixture thoroughly before use.