Like their counterparts including prunes, dates and figs, dried apricots have a lot to offer for their small size. Apricots have been cultivated and traded in parts of Asia and Europe for centuries. They are particularly famous in the Russian Empire and Persia. Apricots are the national fruit of Armenia. Nowadays around 95% of the world's production of apricots occurs in Turkey.
Some larger varieties of apricots, from the Mediterranean or Turkey are dried whole and then pitted. They are a valuable source of beta-carotene and potassium and are packed with dietary fibre. They are low GI and make a healthy sweet snack for those monitoring sugar intake. Read on for more on the health benefits and history of dried apricots.
Apricots: History & Cultivation
Apricots appear on Armenian souvenirs and are a cherished national fruit from this region. Apricots (Prunus armeniaca) grow on small trees around 10m in height. They have flowers that are white or pink, which can be seen blooming in early spring. Apricots are a drupe with a single seed, similar to other stone fruits like cherries or coconuts. Apricots are classically yellow or orange in colour and can be blushed pink due to sun exposure. The surface of apricots can be described as fuzzy, similar to a peach. The texture of the fruit is fleshy and tart with some sweet fragrance that follows.
Most Apricots are halved, pitted then dried in the sun or using preservatives. Other varieties, such as California dried Apricots are dried whole, then pitted later.
In Chinese culture, the word apricot is synonymous with education, wisdom and medicine. The term ‘expert of the apricot tree’ is a common Chinese expression that’s used as a reference to doctors. Dong Feng, a famed physician during the period 220-280AD, would request his patients pay only in apricot kernels. This slowly resulted in a large apricot grove in his garden, as his patients recovered from their illnesses.
Different Types of Dried Apricots
Turkish Dried Apricots
These sweet little gems are usually bigger and a real treat for true apricot lovers. They are convenient for a quick snack, and can be a close second fiddle to a fresh apricot when stone fruit season is done. Turkish Dried Apricots are sometimes preserved naturally, which means they’re darker in colour with a sticky sweetness akin to dates or prunes. They are gorgeous in a stewed fruit compote or to make your own jam.
However other Turkish apricots are preserved with synthetic preservatives and sulfites. This ensures a rich, vibrant orange colour and texture. They have a distinctive ‘bite’ to their texture which stands up to baking and sweet or savoury dishes. If you’re sensitive to preservatives, it’s best to read each label and be mindful of the added ingredients. Opt for an organic or preservative-free dried apricot instead.
Organic Dried Apricots
Dark and juicy with a mellow sweetness, organic apricots are simply divine. These are a personal favourite as they lean closer to a prune or date in softness. They also have less of that famous tart bite which fresh apricots are known for. Organic and preservative free, these are a wonderful addition to granola, porridge, cheese platters or for single snacking.
Health Benefits of Dried Apricots
Nutrients & Polyphenols
- Vitamin A
- Beta carotene
- Vitamin E
- Chlorogenic acid
Dried apricots are rich in polyphenols, vitamins and minerals which make them a naturally healthy food, with a heap of health benefits. Dried apricots have higher mineral content compared to their fresh counterparts. They are especially high in beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for mucosal health in the lungs, digestive system and eye health. Dried apricots also contain catechins and chlorogenic acid.
Catechins are part of the flavonol family of polyphenols. They are widely found in green tea, grapes, chocolate and cacao products. Catechins generally possess antioxidative, anti-cancer and cardioprotective properties. Dried apricots are an easy and convenient option for boosting your antioxidant levels and therefore protecting your health.
Chlorogenic acid is also found in eggplants, prunes and coffee beans. As a plant polyphenol, chlorogenic acid has a wealth of health benefits, including being antimicrobial, cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective. Chlorogenic acid may also help to reduce blood pressure. It helps extinguish inflammatory free radicals in the central nervous system, making it a powerful agent in neurological conditions.
The dietary fibre in dried apricots is one of the most nutritionally important components it possesses. Did you know that increasing your fibre intake can profoundly help with symptoms of depression? As if this wasn’t impressive enough, there are so many other advantages to including fibre in your diet. Some of these include supporting cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure, preventing bowel cancer and helping support a healthy weight.
Dried Apricots are a Low Glycemic & Healthy Snack
Dried apricots, and indeed all dried fruit are considered low glycemic foods. A recent clinical trial assessing the impact of dates, apricots, raisins and sultanas on postprandial glycemia had some interesting results. Postprandial glycemic refers to the blood glucose spike that happens following a high carbohydrate meal. The sudden spike and consequent fall in blood sugar can have damaging health effects in the body. Slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates by consuming fibrous foods, such as dried apricots is an effective way to address this metabolic issue.
The results of the above study showed that dried fruit, especially dried apricots reduced the overall glycemic response of white bread by interrupting carbohydrate absorption. The authors noted that ‘when displacing half the available carbohydrate in white bread, all dried fruit lowered the GI; however, only dried apricots showed a significant displacement effect.
How to Use Dried Apricots
If you’re a child of the 80’s, you may remember such garish dishes as Apricot Chicken. As tacky as this dish may seem to some, I was the only one in the house that loved it. I only remember having it once and despite asking for it countless other nights, it never returned to our family dinner table. Making it with a packet mix of french onion soup has got to be one of the best dinner hacks around. It may have been my first experience of using fruit, especially dried apricots in a cooked dish. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate using different dried fruits in cooking, especially in Middle Eastern dishes.
It can help to have the final dish in mind when choosing different dried apricots. The larger the apricot, the sweeter and softer the fruit flesh will be. In general, smaller varieties tend to be more tart and are better suited for dishes that call for a sharp and delectable bite. Tagines, curries and rice pilafs are all delicious on their own, yet are made even better by the addition of dried apricots.
Nowadays, I’ve learned many ways to enjoy dried apricots, such as:
- Stewed with porridge, honey and cinnamon
- Studded in your favourite muesli slice
- Alongside cheese, crackers, baba ganoush and olives
- Chopped with pecans, pearl barley and herbs for a classic roast stuffing
- Apricot balls at Christmas
Golden Apricot & Walnut Bread
This is a ‘just-sweet-enough’ kind of bread that will suit any morning tea or brunch occasion. The subtly sweet yet tart nature of dried apricots works wonderfully in this quick loaf. Serve with lemon curd, cream cheese or cultured butter. Enjoy.
Golden Apricot & Walnut Bread
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 1 cup dried apricots, chopped
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (swap to GF flour if needed)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup honey
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 165C
- Grease and flour a large loaf pan and line with baking paper
- Pour 3/4 cup of boiling water over apricots and allow to sit for 15 minutes
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt, stir to combine.
- In another large mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar, eggs and honey together until smooth.
- Stir in chopped apricots, soaking water and nuts
- Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the wet mixture
- Spoon the batter carefully into the prepared pan
- Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
- Run a knife all around the edge of the pan and then carefully lift it out with the ends of the paper.
- Peel paper and cool the bread completely on a rack. Slice to serve.
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