The star of late summer is usually the deeply flavorful tomato, which is at its peak at farmers’ markets around the country. But it’s also an opportunity to grab the season’s late fruits that are juicy, sweet, and sometimes even difficult to snag during their prime weeks of ripeness. And though you may be more familiar with the dried version, experts say August is the perfect time to stock up on fresh apricots.
According to the farmers’ market-driven cookbook Sweet Onions and Sour Cherries, apricots are native to China and have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years. They eventually made it far enough West to hit the Mediterranean in the first century A.D.
The fruit was first used for medicinal purposes in China and for its easy-drying qualities in the Middle East. But, apricots were later used in the west for ornamental purposes and grown because they made gardens smell so good, says Debra Moser, co-founder of Central Farm Markets in Washington D.C. Now, they’re enjoyed fresh, frozen, dried, jarred, and more all over the world.
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A fresh apricot holds a different kind of delicate flavor compared to dried varieties or jarred fruits packed in syrup—making it worth getting your hands on the fruit in its fresh-off-the-tree form Here, experts break down everything you need to know about the elusive fruit that’s only available for a few weeks a year.
What are apricots?
Apricots are part of the stone fruit family, which is a family of fruit that have a large pit in the center, like peaches, plums, and nectarines. But these little beauties are less juicy and syrupy than the others, but hold firmer and taste slightly tarter, says Alison Cayne, founder and CEO of Haven’s Kitchen, a former event space for culinary classes that now sells globally-inspired sauces. “I find them a little more consistent than peaches and plums,” she notes. “They’re a lot less sticky.”
Though there are dozens of different types of apricots, the ones you’ll see at your local supermarket have likely been chosen for their sturdier, thick skin so they can travel well. At the farmers’ market, you’ll probably see a wider variety of apricots because they don’t have to travel as far, Cayne says. “One of the reasons I like shopping at the farmers’ market is that you see all these varieties of produce that never made it to the grocery store,” she adds.
Apricot varieties differ in size, texture, and firmness, but you’ll most likely see Tilton, Moorpark, Rival, Royal, and Blenheim, according to Sweet Onions and Sour Cherries. Most farmers’ markets won’t specify the variety grown, though.
Just like berries, watermelon, and pear, apricots have a very specific season, explains Brian Contreras, chef and Miraval Resorts and Spas’ director of culinary experiences. Cayne agrees, noting that apricots love warmth and humidity, so like other stone fruits, they typically peak in the deep summer of late July into early August.
“Something like an apricot, whose season is more in-between, can sometimes be overlooked,” Contreras says. But he especially loves snagging the little stone fruit during their peak to truly make the most of seasonal eating.
What are the health benefits of apricots?
Like all stone fruits, apricots are a very nutritious fruit that can offer fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your diet, says Catherine Perez, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based RD blog. “They also provide valuable antioxidants like beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin that support eye and skin health,” she says.
Perez suggests keeping the skin on apricots for more fiber and to support good gut health. The fiber in the skin provides both insoluble and soluble fiber, she says, which can help feed gut bacteria and support overall digestion. Additionally, apricots are very high in potassium, which research has shown can help lower high blood pressure.
How to buy and eat apricots
When choosing the best apricot, Contreras says they should have a little give when squeezed gently and the flesh should rebound without bruising. If it bruises or doesn’t snap back, it’s likely overripe already. They should be mostly yellow with some pink hues, and apricots found at the farmers’ market may have some black spots on them, but that isn’t an issue, adds Juliet Glass, director of communications at FRESHFARM, a non-profit that operates producer-only farmers’ markets in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“Apricots and other stone fruit are extremely delicious when they’re ripe, but their window of ripeness is small, similar to an avocado,” Contreras says. That’s why Cayne loves to shop for them at her local farmers’ market–because they’re closest to the day they were picked. This yields a juicy, delicious apricot.
But apricots can be extremely difficult for growers to maintain, Glass explains. They bloom very early and can be susceptible to frost. If there’s an early frost, you may have a year without any apricots at all, she says. To combat this, some farmers will set up micro-climates and plant apricots where it’s warmer or use heat fans, while others alternate apricots with other stone fruit in the hopes of not losing all their crops if a frost hits, Glass says. That’s why she always makes sure to snag some when she sees them available.
And if you don’t live near a farmers’ market or your local farmers don’t grow them, you can still likely find them at your grocery store. “If you don’t have access to a prime supplier, like a farm or boutique produce market, you’ll almost always just want to pick apricots underripe and pull through the ripening process at home,” Contreras says. If you pick an under ripe apricot, he suggests storing it in a cardboard box or brown bag to quicken the ripening process.
Store the apricots on the counter and when they start to shrivel a little bit, you can pop them in the refrigerator to keep a few extra days, Glass says. Then, wash them right before you’re ready to use them.
Apricot recipe ideas
If you don’t want to just grab an apricot and eat it as is (which Glass highly recommends) you can use a bounty of the stone fruit in some creative ways.
- Pickle them. When there is an abundance of the fruit available, Contreras likes to pickle them so he can enjoy them “way beyond their usable season.” He suggests keeping slices of them in an airtight glass jar covered in pickle brine for up to nine months and adding them to charcuterie boards, salads, or mixing them with a fat (like goat or feta cheese) for a tangy and sweet mixture.
- Bake them. Swap apricots in for your favorite baked recipes that use other stone fruits. Perez particularly loves apricot crisps because an oat-crumble topping adds more fiber and B vitamins for extra nutrients. “It’s so good, I often make a single-serve version to enjoy at breakfast with some plant-based yogurt,” she says.
- Get them on the grill. Contreras says caramelizing apricots (or even pickled apricots) on the grill adds an extra layer of sweetness. Cayne agrees, adding they hold up even better in the heat than other stone fruit, like peaches. Add them grilled to a salad or alongside lamb chops for a delicious combo, she says.
- Add them to yogurt. Moser says she loves to add some apricot slices to yogurt for a seasonal treat.
- Make a salad dressing. If you have overripe apricots, Contreras suggests combining the chopped, skin-on apricot with olive oil, white balsamic or sherry vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper and turning it into a vinaigrette.
- Dry them. One of the most popular ways Americans consume apricots is in a dried form. Moser says, if you have a dehydrator, you can make your own right at home!
- Pair with chili. “Because apricots have a higher sugar content than something like a peach, they pair well with acids,” Contreras says. He likes to serve up apricots with serranos or even add a few sliced spicy peppers to his pickling liquid for extra sharpness.
Arielle Weg is the associate editor at Prevention and loves to share her favorite wellness and nutrition obsessions. She previously managed content at The Vitamin Shoppe, and her work has also appeared in Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Cooking Light, MyRecipes, and more. You can usually find her taking an online workout class or making a mess in the kitchen, creating something delicious she found in her cookbook collection or saved on Instagram.