Apricots: Health And Beauty Enhancers
Apricots in Europe are considered as an aphrodisiac. In English folklore, dreaming of apricots is a sign of good luck. The Chinese, on the other hand, have the notion that the fruit is a symbol of cowardice. But regardless of what apricots symbolize, did you know that these fruits can enhance your health and beauty? Perhaps you are already tired of using chemically formulated health and beauty products. Well, it’s high time to go back to the basics. Get plenty of exercise, drink a lot of fluids, sleep and rest well, and last but not the least, include apricots, fresh or dried, in your daily diet. Yes folks, the health and beauty benefits of eating apricots are scientifically proven to be tremendously effective.
Fresh or dried apricots are an excellent source of beta-carotene – a potent antioxidant which prevents the build-up of plaque deposits in the arteries, protects the eyes from sun damage and deactivates free radicals that can accelerate the ageing process and increase the risk of cancer. Just eat three small fresh apricots daily and you get more than 50% of the recommended daily intake (RDA) of beta-carotene. Our body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which is vital for good vision and for keeping the eyes lubricated. So contact lens users and those prone to dry eyes should include plenty of apricots in their meals.
The beta-carotene and lycopene nutrients present in all apricots can really help protect the heart and eyes. The high beta-carotene and lycopene activity of apricots makes them important heart health foods. Both beta-carotene and lycopene protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which may help prevent heart disease.
Apricots are also a good source of fiber, which has a wealth of benefits including preventing constipation and digestive conditions such as diverticulosis, and fiber is our best defense against possible diseases. Apricots, likewise, contain significant levels of iron, essential for hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying pigment in red blood cells. Therefore, eat plenty of apricots to prevent iron deficiency which can lead to anemia, pale skin, and thinning, undernourished hair, so make apricots a regular part of your diet.
So before illness and ageing caught up with you, you better get your act together and make apricots a regular food on your table.
But what is an apricot?
The apricot tree is similar to plum since they are classified with the subgenus Prunus. Its leaves have heart shapes with pointed tips, its flowers are either white or pink in color, and its fruit looks like a peach or nectarine with a mixture of yellow, orange and red colors. Apricot fruit is considered a stone fruit (drupe) with smooth and velvety skin and has one seed, often called a ‘stone.’ The taste is not too juicy but definitely smooth and sweet. Some describe its flavor as “almost musky, with a faint tartness that lies somewhere between a peach and a plum.” Like most stone fruits, apricots thrive in a Mediterranean climate of long, hot summers and cool, wet winters. Apricots mature primarily in early summer making them one of the earliest available summer fruits. Commercially, the fruit is harvested just as the skin changes from green to yellow before the fruit is too soft and subject to bruising and rapid decay.
All varieties of Apricots are self-fertile so only one plant need be grown if space is at a premium. They flower early, so, in colder areas they may need to be pollinated by hand. Apricots require very fertile, deep, well-drained loam. The pH of the soil should be around 6.0. Full sun in a sheltered site is also required. Transplant new apricot trees during their dormancy in winter.
Free standing bush trees should only be planted in warmer areas where the early flowers will not be damaged by early spring frosts. If early frost is a problem in your area, grow the plant as a fan against a south-facing wall where extra protection can be provided.
Plants up to fruiting age should be fed in early spring with a general fertilizer such as blood, fish and bone to encourage growth. Once they reach fruiting age, fertilize annually with farmyard animal manure. Very little pruning is usually needed. If pruning is required, prune free standing trees in spring by removing any dead or diseased wood, and any branches that cross over each other that could cause damage by rubbing and also remove any overcrowded branches. To get greater harvest, protect the flowers from frost in the early part of the year.
The fruit is ripe when it lifts off the tree easily by cupping in your hand and gently lifting with a slight twisting motion. Always handle the fruits gently as they bruise rather very easily.
Once picked, apricots can only be stored for a few days. So if you need to use them on later dates, it is recommended to bottle or dry them.
Culinary Uses for Apricots
Apricots are enjoyed usually as a fresh fruit. But these exquisite fruits can also be dried like plums, can be cooked into pastry, and eaten as jam. Take note that these fruits can also be turned into a sumptuous drink since they are distilled into brandy and liqueur.
You can enjoy apricots remarkably by are adding them to your hot or cold cereal; adding some chopped apricots to the batter for your whole grain pancakes; adding dried and diced apricots to chicken and vegetable stews to give them a Middle Eastern flavor; and of course, serving them fresh in your green salad.
Other Essential Uses for Apricots
Aside from consuming apricots to satisfy your palate, apricots are also used to make essential oils. Apricot kernels yield by expression 40 to 50 per cent of a fixed oil, similar to that which occurs in the sweet almond and in the peach kernel. The extracts consist chiefly of Olein, with a small proportion of the glyceride of linolic acid. With distillation and by mixing it with alcohol, the essential oil which contains a colorless, crystalline glucoside, Amygdalin, is produced.
The essential oil of apricot is chemically identical with that of the bitter almond, but is far less expensive. Because of these, apricot oil is used frequently as a substitute for oil of almonds. The oil is used in confectionery and as a culinary flavoring and finds considerable employment in cosmetics, for its softening action on the skin. It is often added to genuine Almond oil and used in the manufacture of soaps, cold creams and other preparations of the perfumery trade. Turkey, Italy, Russia, Spain, Greece, U.S.A. and France are the leading producers of apricot essential oil.
To sum up the uses of apricots, it is time to make better variation in a cliché and turn it more appropriate – An apple and plenty of apricots a day keep the doctor and aging away.