The Science of Sweet and Sour Cherries

Valdemar Fishmen via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Valdemar Fishmen via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Valdemar Fishmen via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There’s a lot to dislike about summer—the stifling heat, the mosquitoes, the lack of new TV—but the season more than makes up for its bad behavior with vibrant, juicy fruits such as peaches, plums, and cherries. The chemistry of the last fruit is broken down in the great infographic below from Compound Interest.

It’s no coincidence that this sweet trio shows up together. Peach, plum, and cherry trees are all part of the genus Prunus, which also includes apricots, nectarines, and almonds. There are two primary types of fresh cherries: Prunus avium, the sweet cherry, and the more acidic Prunus cerasus, or sour cherry. The fruit of these trees is tender, fleshy, and packed with juice.

Their stones are another, far less savory story. Cherry stones, peach pits, and bitter almonds all contain a compound called amygdalin. Left to its own devices, amygdalin is harmless, but when swallowed, it reacts with digestive acids to become hydrogen cyanide. Each stone contains a pretty small dose. You’d have to eat a lot of crushed seeds before you got hurt, but keep in mind that small children and pets have smaller bellies and are therefore more vulnerable.

Cherries are a delicious and refreshing way to sneak in a serving of fresh fruit. They’re safe for adults, kids, and dogs—but only if you take out the pits first.

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