By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

It’s usually difficult for me to choose favorites when it comes to food, but apricots are undoubtedly in my top three favorite fruits. In addition to their attractive, pale orange color and sweet fragrance, they are a versatile fruit that plays well in both sweet and savory applications.

Apricots are related to peaches, and look similar with a velvety skin, soft flesh and smooth texture. Their light color and small size make them distinguishable from a peach, as well as their more tart flavor profile. The taste of an apricot is more similar to that of a plum, but their soft, but not juicy texture differentiates the two. They are harvested from apricot trees and belong to the drupe family. Like cherries, plums and olives, apricots contain a single pit in the center of the fruit.

This stone fruit is packed full of nutrients including high levels of beta carotene and lycopene, as well as vitamin A, vitamin C and plenty of fiber. Despite being among the most nutritious fruits, the average apricot contains only 17 calories. This can be attributed to lower sugar levels.

The growing season of an apricot is quite short, so get the fresh variety while you can, from June and into August. Dried and canned apricots, as well as apricot jam, are popular year-round, but be careful to look out for varieties with a lot of sugar added—this can detract from the delicate tartness of the fruit. 

As with many fruits, the more locally sourced, the better. Because there will be less travel time after harvest, local apricots are able to tree ripen, rather than being picked early to ripen on the shelf. When a fruit is allowed to ripen on a tree, more sugars are able to develop, leading to a more flavorful product. 

Because of apricots’ unique texture, be selective when shopping for the fruit. Softness is often confused with juiciness, and because this fruit isn’t of the juicy variety, you may be selecting an over-ripened fruit by mistake. Look for apricots that are firm with just a slight give; fruits that are rock hard were likely picked early.

To me, the perfect way to enjoy an apricot is straight off the tree. Apricots also make a great foundation for desserts such as pies, tarts and crisps, especially for those who do not enjoy overly sweetened treats. Fresh, roasted, or poached apricots make for an unexpected addition to a salad or sweet and savory sauce for meat. The sauce below pairs especially well with duck, chicken and other poultry and can be used as a glaze for grilling, or as a finishing sauce.

Apricot Sauce

2 fresh apricots, diced (or ½ cup apricot preserves)

* If using fresh apricots, add 1 tablespoon honey

¼ cup water

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

Combine apricots, garlic and water in a saute pan, and cook until soft and the water is cooked down. 

Add remaining ingredients to the pan and cook until reduced and the mixture coats the back of a spoon. If you like a smoother sauce, mash the apricots with the back of a fork.