The apricot, discovered about 4,000 years ago in China, was introduced to the United States in the 18th century. Brought to California by Spanish explorers, the apricot quickly became a popular crop. Today, apricot farmers in California produce more than 95 percent of the apricots grown in the United States, according to Califapricot.com.
Tasty and healthy. The apricot's sweet, tart flavor can tempt taste buds. Go ahead and indulge because this little fruit is nutrient-rich. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lists apricots as a healthy source of Vitamins A and C. Vitamin A promotes eye and skin health, while Vitamin C helps boost the immune system. Apricots are also rich in beta-carotene and don't contain any cholesterol or sodium.
Picking the best. Shopping for fresh fruit can be frustrating. It's often difficult to remember which fruits should be chosen for firmness and which should be a little soft. Choose an apricot that's plump and that responds to the slight pressure of your thumb. It should be slightly soft. Look for apricots that are orange-gold in color. If the apricots are pale yellow or tinged with green, they're not ripe. Avoid any that are wrinkled or severely bruised.
Ripening and storage. Califapricot.com suggests storing fresh apricots in the refrigerator to keep the fruit from over-ripening. Fresh apricots can also be frozen. If you buy a non-ripe apricot, one that's still hard, place it in a paper bag for two to three days. You can stick several apricots in one bag. Be sure to check the fruit each day so it doesn't become over-ripe. Dried apricots also can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores or in the aisle near the raisins.
Fun facts. Apricots are akin to peaches. The apricot is just minus the fuzzy skin that a peach has. Both the apricot and the peach are members of the rose family. One apricot tree can produce fruit for as many as 25 years, its fruit picked by hand when firm. In the United States, apricots are grown in California, Indiana and Washington. Fresh U.S. apricots are available from mid May to mid August.