Apricot

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


The apricot is a small tree, 8–12 m (26–39 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 40 cm (16 in) in diameter and a dense, spreading canopy. The leaves are ovate, 5–9 cm (2.0–3.5 in) long and 4–8 cm (1.6–3.1 in) wide, with a rounded base, a pointed tip and a finely serrated margin. The flowers are 2–4.5 cm (0.8–1.8 in) 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 cm (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 from 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.


Cultivation and uses


The origin of the apricot is disputed. It was known in Armenia during ancient times, and has been cultivated there for so long, it is often thought to have originated there. 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 ..."). An archaeological excavation at Garni in Armenia found apricot seeds in an Eneolithic-era site. Despite the great number of varieties of apricots that are grown in Armenia today (about 50), according to Vavilov its center of origin would be the Chinese region, where the domestication of apricot would have taken place. Other sources say that the apricot was first cultivated in India in about 3000 BC.

Its introduction to Greece is attributed to Alexander the Great; later, the Roman General Lucullus (106–57 B.C.) also would have imported some trees – the cherry, white heart cherry, and apricot – from Armenia to Rome[citation needed]. 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.

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. commercial production is in California, with some in Washington and Utah.

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.

Today, apricot cultivation has spread to all parts of the globe with climates that support it.


Cultivation


Although the apricot is native to a continental climate region with cold winters, it can grow in Mediterranean climates if enough cool winter weather allows a proper dormancy.[citation needed] 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 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.

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

Cultivators have created what is known as a "black apricot", but this is not a genuine apricot, being a hybrid of 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'.

An old adage says 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 well-drained soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Some apricot cultivars are self-compatible and do not require pollinizer trees; others are not, such as Moongold and Sungold, which must be planted in pairs so that they can pollinate each other.

Apricots are susceptible to numerous diseases whose relative importance is different in the major production regions as a consequence of their climatic differences. Diseases include bacterial canker and blast, bacterial spot and crown gall, and 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, viral and phytoplasma diseases, including graft-transmissible problems.


Medicinal and nonfood 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 AD 502. In England during the 17th century, apricot oil was also used against tumors, swellings, and ulcers. 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, "amygdalin may offer a valuable option for the treatment of prostate cancers".

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." Given the lack of evidence, laetrile has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health evaluated the evidence separately and concluded the clinical trials of amygdalin showed little or no effect against cancer. For example, a 1982 trial of 175 patients found tumor size had increased in all but one patient. The authors reported, "the hazards of amygdalin therapy were evidenced in several patients by symptoms of cyanide toxicity or by blood cyanide levels approaching the lethal range."

The study concluded, "Patients exposed to this agent should be instructed about the danger of cyanide poisoning, and their blood cyanide levels should be carefully monitored. Amygdalin (Laetrile) is a toxic drug that is not effective as a cancer treatment".

In Europe, apricots were long considered an aphrodisiac, and were used in this context in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and as an inducer of childbirth, as depicted in John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi.

Due to their high fiber to volume ratio, dried apricots are sometimes used to relieve constipation or induce diarrhea. Effects can be felt after eating as few as three.


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.

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) ..." 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:Pedanius Dioscorides' " ... Ἀρμενιακὰ, Ῥωμαιστὶ δὲ βρεκόκκια" and Martial's "Armeniaca, et praecocia latine dicuntur". 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. Nonetheless, the 12th century Andalusian agronomist Ibn al-'Awwam refers to the species in the title of chapter 40 of his Kitab al-Filaha as والتفاح الارمني, "apple from Armenia", stating that it is the same as المشمش or البرقوق ("al-mishmish" or "al-barqūq").

Accordingly, the American Heritage Dictionary under apricot derives praecocia from praecoquus, "cooked or ripened beforehand" [in this case meaning early ripening], becoming Greek πραικόκιον praikókion "apricot" and Arabic البرقوق al-barqūq, a term that has been used for a variety of different members of the genus Prunus (it currently refers primarily to the plum in most varieties of Arabic, but some writers use it as a catchall term for Prunus fruit).

The English name comes from earlier "abrecock" in turn from the Middle French abricot, from Catalan abercoc. 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. 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. 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.

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.

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%)
- lutein and zeaxanthin 89 μg
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.03 mg (3%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2) 0.04 mg (3%)
Niacin (vit. B3) 0.6 mg (4%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.24 mg (5%)
Vitamin B6 0.054 mg (4%)
Folate (vit. B9) 9 μg (2%)
Vitamin C 10 mg (12%)
Vitamin E 0.89 mg (6%)
Vitamin K 3.3 μg (3%)
Calcium 13 mg (1%)
Iron 0.4 mg (3%)
Magnesium 10 mg (3%)
Manganese 0.077 mg (4%)
Phosphorus 23 mg (3%)
Potassium 259 mg (6%)
Sodium 1 mg (0%)
Zinc 0.2 mg (2%)
 

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%)
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.015 mg (1%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2) 0.074 mg (6%)
Niacin (vit. B3) 2.589 mg (17%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.516 mg (10%)
Vitamin B6 0.143 mg (11%)
Folate (vit. B9) 10 μg (3%)
Vitamin C 1 mg (1%)
Vitamin E 4.33 mg (29%)
Vitamin K 3.1 μg (3%)
Calcium 55 mg (6%)
Iron 2.66 mg (20%)
Magnesium 32 mg (9%)
Manganese 0.235 mg (11%)
Phosphorus 71 mg (10%)
Potassium 1162 mg (25%)
Sodium 10 mg (1%)
Zinc 0.29 mg (3%)


Thanks to wikipedia.org

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