Did you know there are about 1,000 types of cherries in the United States? But only around 10 varieties are commercially produced by farmers. Cherries are known as drupes or stone fruits, related to peaches, plums, apricots and almonds. Several varieties contain high levels of antioxidants. Cherries can be categorized into two main groups: sweet and sour.
Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) are usually eaten fresh. Heart-shaped and considerably larger than sour cherries, they have a firm and juicy flesh. Sweet cherries have colors that range from golden-red to purple-black. California, Washington, Michigan and Oregon are the major producers of sweet cherries in the U.S.
Some of the most popular sweet cherry variants are Bing, Lambert, Royal Ann and Rainier. Bing is the most popular and named after Ah Bing, a horticulturist that cultivated the variety. They're round, plump and very sweet. Lambert cherries are smaller than Bing, and they're more heart-shaped rather than round. Rainier and Royal Ann have a more yellowish color and a milder taste when compared to Lambert and Bing. Rainier cherries are expensive because of their very limited yearly production, while Royal Ann cherries are usually preserved.
Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus), also known as tart cherries, are smaller than sweet cherries and contain more vitamin C and fewer calories. They're often used in cooking and baking. They can be subdivided into two groups: amarelles and morellos. Amarelles have a lower acid content, with colors ranging from pale-yellow to bright-red, while morellos have high acid content and red to dark-red coloring.
The most popular sour cherry is the Montmorency, accounting for 95 percent of all sour cherries consumed in the U.S. every year. They have a bright-red to dark-red color and are commonly sold as dried fruits, preserved or as cherry juice. Other popular varieties include Early Richmond and English Morello.