There are about 1,000 types of cherry in the United States – although only around 10 varieties are commercially produced by farmers. Also known as "drupes" or "stone fruits," cherries are related to peaches, plums, apricots and almonds. Several varieties of cherries contain high levels of antioxidants that can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Although cherries have around a thousand varieties, these varieties 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.
Popular Sweet Cherry Variants
Some of the most popular sweet cherry variants include Bing, Lambert, Royal Ann and Rainier. Bing is the most popular variant and named after Ah Bing, a horticulturist that cultivated the variety. Bing cherries are round, plump and very sweet.
Lambert cherries are smaller than Bing as well as 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 its 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. Sour cherries 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. Sour cherries are often used in cooking and baking.
Popular Sour Cherry Variants
The most popular sour cherry is the Montmorency; this variant accounts for 95 percent of all sour cherries consumed in the U.S. every year. Other popular varieties include Early Richmond and English Morello. Montmorency cherries have a bright-red to dark-red color and are commonly sold as dried fruits, preserved or as cherry juice.