Apricots are native to China and have been cultivated for more than 4000 years. They were well-known in ancient Greece and Rome, having followed the trade routes westward. From Europe, the apricot was introduced to America on the ships of the early explorers and settlers. Worldwide production in 1990 was estimated at nearly 700,000 metric tons (4). U.S. production was estimated at about 123,000 metric tons, with 97% produced in California.

The apricot belongs to the genus Prunus of the family Rosaceae. It is a stone fruit, in which the seed is encased within a hard, lignified endocarp referred to as the stone. Most commercial apricots belong to P. armeniaca, but several other varieties (P. siberica and P. mandshurica) are known. P. mume, known as the winter-flowering plum in Asia, has several cultivars. There is considerable genetic diversity in the apricot, but nearly all commercially important cultivars in the United States are derived from P. Armeniaca.

Before World War II, most apricots in the United States were sun dried, but production of canned apricots currently exceeds that of dried products. About 16% of apricots are marketed fresh and about 10% frozen. For canned apricots, Patterson and Tilton are the varieties of choice. The apricots are either picked by hand or shaken off the trees mechanically and transported to the cannery. The fruits are washed in chlorinated water; extraneous matter such as leaves, sticks, immature fruit, and the like are removed; and the fruit is conveyed to the cutters. The fruit is cut along the sutures, the pits are removed, and the fruit is placed in containers. Syrup consisting of light or heavy sugar syrup, apricot juice, or pear juice is added, and the containers are thermally processed. For sun-dried apricots, Blenheim is the cultivar of choice because of its superior flavor, but Patterson and Tilton are also used. Sun drying is a method of preservation limited to climates with hot sun and dry atmospheres. There are six basic steps: (1) select and sort fresh fruits, (2) wash, (3) cut into halves and remove pits, (4) place fruit cut side up on drying trays,

(5) treat with burning sulfur or gaseous sulfur dioxide, and

(6) place trays in the drying yard in full sun. The sulfur dioxide preserves the color of the dried fruit by minimizing enzymatic browning and reduces degradation of carotene and ascorbic acid. The fruits usually take 5 to 10 days to dry to a moisture content of 15 to 20%. The trays are then removed from direct sunlight and stacked to allow the moisture content to rise to about 27%. The fruits are then placed in boxes for 2 to 3 weeks and allowed to equilibrate to the desired moisture content. Once cured, the apricots are graded and packaged for sale. Frozen apricot slices are produced by washing, grading, cutting, slicing, and freezing the fresh fruit.

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