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The apricot, Prunus armeniaca, is a species of Prunus, classified with the plum in the subgenus Prunus. The native range is somewhat uncertain due to its extensive prehistoric cultivation.

 

 

 

 

Description

It is a small tree, 8–12 metres (26–39 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 40 centimetres (16 in) diameter and a dense, spreading canopy. The leaves are ovate, 5–9 centimetres (2.0–3.5 in) long and 4–8 centimetres (1.6–3.1 in) wide, with a rounded base, a pointed tip and a finely serrated margin. The flowers are 2–4.5 centimetres (0.8–1.8 in) diameter, with five white to pinkish petals; they are produced singly or in pairs in early spring before the leaves. The fruit is a drupe similar to a small peach, 1.5–2.5 centimetres (0.6–1.0 in) diameter (larger in some modern cultivars), from yellow to orange, often tinged red on the side most exposed to the sun; its surface can be smooth (botanically described as: glabrous) or velvety with very short hairs (botanically: pubescent). The flesh is usually firm and not very juicy.Its taste can range between sweet to tart. The single seed is enclosed in a hard stony shell, often called a “stone”, with a grainy, smooth texture except for three ridges running down one side.[2][3]

 

Cultivation and uses

History of cultivation

The apricot was known in Armenia during ancient times, and has been cultivated there for so long that it is often thought to have originated there.[4][5] Its scientific name Prunus armeniaca (Armenian plum) derives from that assumption. For example, De Poerderlé, writing in the 18th century, asserted “Cet arbre tire son nom de l’Arménie, province d’Asie, d’où il est originaire et d’où il fut porté en Europe …” (“this tree takes its name from Armenia, province of Asia, where it is native, and whence it was brought to Europe …”).[6] An archaeological excavation at Garni in Armenia found apricot seeds in an Eneolithic-era site.[7] And there are about 50 different varieties of apricots grown in Armenia today.[[2]] However, the Vavilov center of origin locates the origin of the apricot’s domestication in the Chinese region, and other sources say the apricot was first cultivated in India in about 3000 BC.[8]

Its introduction to Greece is attributed to Alexander the Great,[8] and the Roman General Lucullus (106–57 B.C.) also exported some trees – the cherry, white heart cherry, and apricot – from Armenia to Europe. Subsequent sources were often confused about the origin of the species. Loudon (1838) believed it had a wide native range including Armenia, Caucasus, the Himalaya, China, and Japan.[9]

Today the cultivars have spread to all parts of the globe with climates that support it.

Apricots have been cultivated in Persia since antiquity, and dried ones were an important commodity on Persian trade routes. Apricots remain an important fruit in modern-day Iran where they are known under the common name of Zard-ālū (Persian: زردآلو).

Egyptians usually dry apricots, add sweetener, and then use them to make a drink called “‘amar al-dīn.”

More recently, English settlers brought the apricot to the English colonies in the New World. Most of modern American production of apricots comes from the seedlings carried to the west coast by Spanish missionaries. Almost all U.S. production is in California, with some in Washington and Utah.[10]

Many apricots are also cultivated in Australia, particularly South Australia, where they are commonly grown in the region known as the Riverland and in a small town called Mypolonga in the Lower Murray region of the state. In states other than South Australia, apricots are still grown, particularly in Tasmania and western Victoria and southwest New South Wales, but they are less common than in South Australia.

Cultivation

Although the apricot is native to a continental climate region with cold winters, it can grow in Mediterranean climates if there is some cool winter weather to allow a proper dormancy. The dry climate of these areas is good for fruit maturation. The tree is slightly more cold-hardy than the peach, tolerating winter temperatures as cold as −30 °C or lower if healthy. A limiting factor in apricot culture is spring frosts: They tend to flower very early, meaning spring frost can kill the flowers. Furthermore, the trees are sensitive to temperature changes during the winter season. In their native China, winters can be very cold, but temperatures tend to be more stable than in Europe and especially North America, where large temperature swings can occur in winter. Hybridisation with the closely related Prunus sibirica (Siberian apricot; hardy to −50 °C but with less palatable fruit) offers options for breeding more cold-tolerant plants.[11]

Apricot cultivars are most often grafted on plum or peach rootstocks. The scion from an existing apricot plant provides the fruit characteristics such as flavour, size, etc., but the rootstock provides the growth characteristics of the plant.

Cultivators have created what is known as a “black apricot” but it this is not a genuine apricot as it is a hybrid between an Apricot and a plum. This fruit is variously called plumcots, apriplums, pluots, or apriums.

Apricots have a chilling requirement of 300 to 900 chilling units. They are hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. Some of the more popular US cultivars of apricots include Blenheim, Wenatchee Moorpark, Tilton, and Perfection.

There is an old adage that an apricot tree will not grow far from the mother tree; the implication is that apricots are particular about the soil conditions in which they are grown.[citation needed] They prefer a well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. If fertilizer is needed, as indicated by yellow-green leaves, then 1/4 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer should be applied in the second year. Granular fertilizer should be scattered beneath the branches of the tree. An additional 1/4 pound should be applied for every year of age of the tree in early spring, before growth starts. Apricots are self-compatible and do not require pollinizer trees, with the exception of the ‘Moongold’ and ‘Sungold’ cultivars, which can pollinate each other. Apricots are susceptible to numerous bacterial diseases including bacterial canker and blast, bacterial spot and crown gall. They are susceptible to an even longer list of fungal diseases including brown rot, black knot, Alternaria spot and fruit rot, and powdery mildew. Other problems for apricots are nematodes and viral diseases, including graft-transmissible problems.

Apricots, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 201 kJ (48 kcal)
Carbohydrates 11 g
– Sugars 9 g
– Dietary fiber 2 g
Fat 0.4 g
Protein 1.4 g
Vitamin A equiv. 96 μg (12%)
– beta-carotene 1094 μg (10%)
Vitamin C 10 mg (12%)
Iron 0.4 mg (3%)
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Apricots, dried
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,009 kJ (241 kcal)
Carbohydrates 63 g
– Sugars 53 g
– Dietary fibre 7 g
Fat 0.5 g
Protein 3.4 g
Vitamin A equiv. 180 μg (23%)
– beta-carotene 2163 μg (20%)
Vitamin C 1 mg (1%)
Iron 2.7 mg (21%)
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Production trends

Turkey is the leading apricot producer, followed by Iran and Uzbekistan.

 

 

 

 

 

Kernels

Seeds or kernels of the apricot grown in central Asia and around the Mediterranean are so sweet that they may be substituted for almonds. The Italian liqueur amaretto and amaretti biscotti are flavoured with extract of apricot kernels rather than almonds. Oil pressed from these cultivar kernels, and known as ‘Oil of Almond’, has been used as cooking oil. Kernels contain between 2.05% and 2.40% hydrogen cyanide, but normal consumption is insufficient to produce serious effects.[13][clarification needed]

Medicinal and non-food uses

Cyanogenic glycosides (found in most stone fruit seeds, bark, and leaves) are found in high concentration in apricot seeds. Laetrile, a purported alternative treatment for cancer, is extracted from apricot seeds. Apricot seeds “were used against tumors as early as A.D. 502. In England during the seventeenth century, apricot oil was also used against tumors, swellings, and ulcers”.[14] In 2005, scientists in the Republic of Korea found that treating human prostate cancer cells with amygdalin induces programmed cell death in vitro. They concluded that “amygdalin may offer a valuable option for the treatment of prostate cancers”.[15]

A 2006 systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded: “The claim that [l]aetrile has beneficial effects for cancer patients is not supported by data from controlled clinical trials. This systematic review has clearly identified the need for randomised or controlled clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of [l]aetrile or amygdalin for cancer treatment.”[16] Given the lack of evidence, laetrile has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[17]

Cyanogenic glycosides (found in most stone fruit seeds, bark, and leaves) are found in high concentration in apricot seeds. Laetrile, a purported alternative treatment for cancer, is extracted from apricot seeds. Apricot seeds “were used against tumors as early as A.D. 502. In England during the seventeenth century, apricot oil was also used against tumors, swellings, and ulcers”.[14] In 2005, scientists in the Republic of Korea found that treating human prostate cancer cells with amygdalin induces programmed cell death in vitro. They concluded that “amygdalin may offer a valuable option for the treatment of prostate cancers”.[15]

A 2006 systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded: “The claim that [l]aetrile has beneficial effects for cancer patients is not supported by data from controlled clinical trials. This systematic review has clearly identified the need for randomised or controlled clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of [l]aetrile or amygdalin for cancer treatment.”[16] Given the lack of evidence, laetrile has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[17]

Research shows that of any food, apricots possess the highest levels and widest variety of carotenoids.[citation needed] Carotenoids are antioxidants that may help to prevent heart disease, reduce “bad cholesterol” levels, and protect against cancer.[21] Although initial studies suggested that antioxidant supplements might promote health, later large clinical trials did not detect any benefit and suggested instead that excess supplementation may be harmful.[22] In traditional Chinese medicine, apricots are considered helpful in regenerating body fluids, detoxifying, and quenching thirst.

Top twelve apricot producers—2009
(1,000 tonnes)
 Turkey 695
 Iran 398
 Uzbekistan 290
 Italy 234
 Algeria 203
 Pakistan 194
 France 190
 Morocco 123
 Ukraine 116
 Japan 115
 Egypt 100
 Syria 99
World total 3800

Non-food uses

In Armenia the wood of the apricot tree is used for making wood carvings such as the duduk which is a popular wind instrument in Armenia and is also called the apricot pipe. Several hand- made souvenirs are also made from the apricot wood.

Etymology

The scientific name armeniaca was first used by Gaspard Bauhin in his Pinax Theatri Botanici (page 442), referring to the species as Mala armeniaca “Armenian apple”. It is sometimes stated that this came from Pliny the Elder, but it was not used by Pliny. Linnaeus took up Bauhin’s epithet in the first edition of his Species Plantarum in 1753.[23]

The name apricot is probably derived from a tree mentioned as praecocia by Pliny. Pliny says “We give the name of apples (mala) … to peaches (persica) and pomegranates (granata) …”[24] Later in the same section he states “The Asiatic peach ripens at the end of autumn, though an early variety (praecocia) ripens in summer – these were discovered within the last thirty years …”.

The classical authors connected Greek armeniaca with Latin praecocia:[25] Pedanius Dioscorides’ ” … Ἀρμενιακὰ, Ῥωμαιστὶ δὲ βρεκόκκια”[26] and Martial’s “Armeniaca, et praecocia latine dicuntur”.[27] Putting together the Armeniaca and the Mala obtains the well-known epithet, but there is no evidence the ancients did it; Armeniaca alone meant the apricot.

Accordingly, the American Heritage Dictionary under apricot derives praecocia from praecoquus, “cooked or ripened beforehand” [in this case meaning early ripening], becoming Greek πραικόκιον “apricot” and Arabic al-barqūq “apricot” (although in most of the Arab world the word now means “plum”).

The English name comes from earlier “abrecock” in turn from the Middle French abricot, from Catalan abercoc.[28] Both the Catalan and the Spanish albaricoque were adaptations of the Arabic, dating from the Moorish rule of Spain.

However, in Argentina, Chile, and Peru, the word for “apricot” is damasco, which could indicate that, to the Spanish settlers of Argentina, the fruit was associated with Damascus in Syria.[29] The word damasco is also the word for “apricot” in Portuguese (both European and Brazilian, though in Portugal the word alperce is also used).

In culture

The Chinese associate the apricot with education and medicine. For instance, the classical word 杏壇 (literally: ‘apricot altar’) which means “educational circle”, is still widely used in written language. Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher in 4th century BCE, told a story that Confucius taught his students in a forum surrounded by the wood of apricot trees.[30] The association with medicine in turn comes from the common use of apricot kernels as a component in traditional Chinese medicine, and from the story of Dong Feng (董奉), a physician during the Three Kingdoms period, who required no payment from his patients except that they plant apricot trees in his orchard on recovering from their illnesses, resulting in a large grove of apricot trees and a steady supply of medicinal ingredients. The term “Expert of the Apricot Grove” �(杏林高手) is still used as a poetic reference to physicians.

The fact that apricot season is very short has given rise to the very common Egyptian Arabic and Palestinian Arabic expression “filmishmish” (“in apricot [season]”) or “bukra filmishmish” (“tomorrow in apricot [season]”), generally uttered as a riposte to an unlikely prediction, or as a rash promise to fulfill a request.

The Turkish idiom “bundan iyisi Şam’da kayısı” (literally, the only thing better than this is an apricot in Damascus) means “it doesn’t get any better than this”. It is used when something is the very best it can be, like a delicious apricot from Damascus.

Written on June 7th, 2012 , Fruits Tags:

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