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Who Knew Nutrition Could Be So Sweet?

Eating Smart

April 05, 1999|SHELDON MARGEN and DALE A. OGAR | Dr. Sheldon Margen is professor of public health at UC Berkeley; Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. They are the authors of several books, including "The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition."

The apricot is a beautiful, sensual fruit. Its skin is like velvet, its color is delicate, its taste is sweet, and it smells like all the good things of summer.

Looks aside, one small apricot, weighing a little more than an ounce, has only 18 calories but supplies enough beta carotene to give you 18% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and is also a good source of vitamin C, iron and potassium. In fact, NASA, always looking for compact sources of nutrients, made apricots part of the astronauts' diet, especially on long flights.

Currently, more than 90% of domestic apricots are grown in California. The fresh apricot season lasts only about 10 weeks (June to mid-August), so about 85% of all apricots are canned, dried or made into a very sweet nectar. This nectar is usually fortified with enough vitamin C to provide more than 200% of the recommended daily allowance per serving.

If you're lucky enough to find fresh apricots in the store, they may not be fully ripe because once they are they don't ship well. Fully ripe apricots are soft to the touch and loaded with juice. Eat them as quickly as possible because they will not keep. Apricots that need a day or two of ripening will be plump, firm and orange-gold in color. Don't buy any fruits that are hard or have a greenish tinge because they will never develop their full flavor.

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Once you get fresh apricots home from the market, store them in a paper bag at room temperature for a day or two if they need to ripen, but keep them out of direct sunlight. Once they are completely ripe, you can put them in a plastic bag and store them in a refrigerator for a day or two. Don't wash apricots until you're ready to eat them.

To prepare apricots for use in cooking, rinse them under cold water. Then, heat them only briefly or else they lose much of their flavor. They are very delicate, so if you need to peel them, do so carefully. Put the fruit in boiling water for 15 to 20 seconds and then cool them under cold water. At this point you can use a knife to slip the skin right off.

If you want to cut them in half, cut down to the pit around the longitudinal seam and then twist apart. Once apricots are cut, dip them into diluted lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.

* Broiling/grilling: Grilled apricots are wonderful with chicken on the barbecue and they also make a wonderful dessert for a picnic. You can thread them on skewers, brush them with honey and then grill them until tender. You can also do this in the broiler, putting them 4 to 5 inches from the flame cut-side up for 7 to 10 minutes.

* Poaching: Put peeled or unpeeled apricots in barely simmering fruit juice (any variety), cover the pot and cook until tender (6 to 8 minutes). You can add whole cloves or a cinnamon stick for flavor. Once you remove the apricots from the poaching liquid, you can cook it down to make a sauce.

One wonderful way to use fresh or canned apricots is to combine them with hot peppers, lime juice, chopped onion and ground cumin. This makes a great fruit salsa that goes really well with chicken or fish. Or chop up some fresh apricots into nonfat plain yogurt. Diced apricots will add sweetness and texture to muffin batters or pancakes.

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