The Basics of Fruits
In the kitchen, ripe fruits of any classification can come to the rescue morning, noon, and night—and in between. Fruits can stand alone and be enjoyed raw, with maybe a drizzle of honey, a slice of cheese, or a sprinkling of rum as flavor accents. On the other hand, many fruits cook up well in syrups, pies, cakes, jams, pancakes, waffles, custards, soufflés, ice creams, and puddings, and they can accent savory entrées with just a hint of sweetness to tempt the palate: plantains with black beans is one such example.
Fortunately, astute growers and vigilant green consumer groups have reignited the collective passion for the fruits of yesteryear, from the freeform colorful heirloom tomatoes to the desirable heirloom apples. Thanks to the efforts of several national groups, you, too—provided you have the space— can grow the same full-flavored varieties of apples, peaches, melons, paw paws, and tomatoes, plus others, that pleased generations past.
Your growing such heirloom varieties has a double benefit: your eating pleasure and your preserving plant diversity. For more information, visit Seed Savers Exchange.
Keys to a Healthy Diet
As with their vegetable cousins, fruits are healthful props for the modern diet. As the USDA points out, fruit—and vegetable—consumption may lower the risk factors for several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, development of kidney stones, and, of course, obesity.
The USDA further details those nutrients in most fruits that act as health-promoting agents: potassium, in bananas, cantaloupe, and orange juice, for example, for its possibly normalizing blood pressure; vitamin C for tissue growth and repair; folate, for red blood cell formation; and that all-important fiber, for keeping the intestines functioning properly and for possibly reducing levels of blood cholesterol.
From the CDC, you’ll read about how those who insert more fruit (and vegetable) servings per day into their diet are less likely to develop certain chronic diseases, confirming what others say. Its website also charts which fruits contain which nutrients and celebrates the fruit of the month.
Experts from the Harvard School of Public Health say you should eat about two cups of fruit a day to promote, among other health benefits, better eyesight. Even the popular press has jumped on the “eat fruits” bandwagon by glorifying the benefits of such summer delicacies as blueberries, often touted for their ability to reduce the risk of certain cancers, to lower blood pressure, to fight infections, and, best of all, to keep minds sharp.
Another fruit celebrity is cranberries, for their ability to fight urinary tract infections, as cited by the Cranberry Institute. And, of course, who hasn’t heard the nursery jingle about eating daily apples to keep doctors away?
In its MyPyramid section on what counts as a serving of fruit, the USDA estimates that one cup of fruit or 100 percent fruit juice or a half cup of dried fruit counts as a one-cup serving. To envision what constitutes a serving, refer to this handy chart.
Fruits in the Kitchen
If you are trying to up your fruit intake, you might want to select precut fruits as time savers; you should buy seasonal fruits, which will cost less; and you should stock up on dried, frozen, or canned fruits (packed in juice, not syrup) so you’ll have some at the ready.
While you must refrigerate cutup fruits, most whole fruits will last a day or so at room temperature—in either case, buy only what you can consume in a few days’ time to prevent tossing out spoiled fruit later on. And for the best health benefits, select different fruit varieties, as each variety has different nutrients.
Note that fruitarians believe the only road to optimal health is by eating raw fruits and nuts exclusively.
Safe Fruit Handling
As with all fresh produce, fruits need a good rinsing to remove both farm dirt and invisible microorganisms before you plan to eat them. For fragile berries, a gentle spraying should do the trick without bruising them. Firm fruits should be washed in warm—not hot—water. Even fruits whose skin you peel away should be gently rinsed.