Friday, June 21, 2013

Red vs. White

We all do it.

Despite our best efforts to appear fair, to be open to all, we all have favorites.

So, love ya, plum! You're fabulous, peach, simply fabby! I'll get back to you in a minute. Lemme just get past you.

The cherries are here.


I wait all year for cherries. Occasionally cherries pop up out of season, presumably after a long haul from Chile or another country whose seasons complement our own, but I always end up giving them a pass after trying one. Some fruit don't do well out of their time.

When I think of cherries, I imagine deep crimson ones. When red cherries are identified, they're typically labeled Bing cherries, named after the Chinese-American horticulturalist Ah Bing, although other varieties, such as
Lambert cherries, also are widely sold. As you might guess from their deep color, Bing and Lambert cherries are chock full of anthocyanins, and so are are very healthful. (Even more healthful are tart cherry varieties such as Montmorency, which are typically canned or used for juice, but some of us love as is. Hmm, I sense a separate entry!)

But red cherries are not the only game in town. White cherries, aka golden cherries, also have their partisans. 

A becoming blush!

White cherries, typically Queen Anne or Rainier varieties (and few can tell the difference), are extremely delicate and bruise easily. Buy a pound, especially if you don't get to pick them yourself, and you'll likely end up with a lot of dinged and battered cherries, like the ones below They're also apparently more susceptible to growing problems, such as frost damage.

What to expect when you're expecting white cherries

Not surprisingly, white cherries are generally more expensive than red cherries - note the back-to-back signs at one of New York's gourmet supermarkets, showing red cherries for sale at $3.99/lb and white ones at $8.99/lb. 

Despite their premium cost, white cherries are very popular - especially in places like Japan, where delicacy is valued and a certain amount of fruit coddling is to be expected. As my friend Hiroko told me, "Rainiers, or "American Cherries," as we call them here, are quite popular in Japan. I remember my friend Aya complaining around this time of the year. She worked for an American semiconductor company in Tokyo, and she always had to make sure that semiconductor chips from the U.S. would secure their spot on air cargo in June. Otherwise Rainier cherries would take over the rides to Tokyo!"

If you look closely at the text in the supermarket's sign for Rainier cherries, you'll see it not only touts "firm skin that creates a satisfying crunch with every bite," (as if the cherries were tortilla chips), but also white cherries' lessened tartness.  This reminded me a bit of the recent trend to praise white chocolatewhich used to be scorned for its absence of cocoa solids/chocolate liquor and the attendant mixture of bitter/tart flavor with the sweetness. But as food activist Jo Robinson wrote in recent and fascinating New York Times article entitled, "Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food," produce's color and complexity of flavor has been seen as a disadvantage for a while:  

In 1836, Noyes Darling, a onetime mayor of New Haven, and a gentleman farmer, was the first to use scientific methods to breed a new variety of corn. His goal was to create a sweet, all-white variety that was “fit for boiling” by mid-July. He succeeded, noting with pride that he had rid sweet corn of “the disadvantage of being yellow.”
The disadvantage of being yellow, we now know, had been an advantage to human health. Corn with deep yellow kernels, including the yellow corn available in our grocery stores, has nearly 60 times more beta-carotene than white corn, valuable because it turns to Vitamin A in the body, which helps vision and the immune system.

And yet I'm happy both red and white cherries are around. For me, white cherries never scale the heights of magnificence that red cherries do, but they are much more consistent. There are points in June and at the end of July when red cherries are available but not worth buying. To me, they taste like mud. I have found (undamaged) white cherries to be pretty consistent in taste whenever they're available. 

The season is too short for me to spurn either contender. Which to choose? I say, Both.

There's a reason why it's a metaphor for a happy, easy life!


  1. I just found golden cherries at Whole Foods and sprung for a pound. This led me to wonder if there were different health benefits because of the coloring - you mentioned corn, what about cherries? I love both red and yellow so it is win win !

    1. This is a good question. Typically, breeding for sweetness and delicacy would leave you with a less nutritious product. But golden cherries are considered a good source of anthocyanins, even without red cherries' vivid color. (See for more information.) I also find it remarkable that cherries have a relatively low glycemic index (22, vs. 40 for blueberries) and, even better, glucose-lowering phytochemicals. Impressive for such a sweet fruit! As you say, a win-win.