Usually, an apricot tree is from the species P. armeniaca, but the species P. brigantina, P. mandshurica, P. mume, and P. sibirica are closely related, have similar fruit, and are also called apricots.
The scientific name armeniaca was first used by Gaspard Bauhin in his Pinax Theatri Botanici (1623), referring to the species as Mala armeniaca "Armenian apple". Linnaeus took up Bauhin's epithet in the first edition of his Species Plantarum in 1753, Prunus armeniaca. Apricot derives from praecocia (praecoquus) as "cooked or ripened beforehand" [in this case meaning early ripening], and from Greek πραικόκιον (praikókion) as "apricot". The English name first appeared in the 16th century as abrecock from the Middle French aubercot or later abricot, from Catalan a(l)bercoc.
The apricot is a small tree, 8–12 m (26–39 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 40 cm (16 in) in diameter and a dense, spreading canopy. The leaves are ovate, 5–9 cm (2.0–3.5 in) long and 4–8 cm (1.6–3.1 in) wide, with a rounded base, a pointed tip and a finely serrated margin. The flowers are 2–4.5 cm (0.8–1.8 in) in diameter, with five white to pinkish petals; they are produced singly or in pairs in early spring before the leaves. The fruit is a drupe similar to a small peach, 1.5–2.5 cm (0.6–1.0 in) diameter (larger in some modern cultivars), from yellow to orange, often tinged red on the side most exposed to the sun; its surface can be smooth (botanically described as: glabrous) or velvety with very short hairs (botanically: pubescent). The flesh is usually firm and not very juicy. Its taste can range from sweet to tart. The single seed is enclosed in a hard, stony shell, often called a "stone" or "kernel", with a grainy, smooth texture except for three ridges running down one side.
Cultivation and usesEdit
The origin of the apricot is disputed and unsettled. It was known in Armenia during ancient times, and has been cultivated there for so long that it is often thought to have originated there. Its scientific name Prunus armeniaca (Armenian plum) derives from that assumption. For example, the Belgian arborist baron de Poerderlé, writing in the 1770s, asserted, "Cet arbre tire son nom de l'Arménie, province d'Asie, d'où il est originaire et d'où il fut porté en Europe ..." ("this tree takes its name from Armenia, province of Asia, where it is native, and whence it was brought to Europe ..."). An archaeological excavation at Garni in Armenia found apricot seeds in an Eneolithic-era site. Despite the great number of varieties of apricots that are grown in Armenia today (about 50), according to the Soviet botanist Nikolai Vavilov, its center of origin would be the Chinese region, where the domestication of the apricot would have taken place. Other sources say that the apricot was first cultivated in India in about 3000 BC.
Its introduction to Greece is attributed to Alexander the Great; later, the Roman General Lucullus (106–157 BC) also would have imported some trees – the cherry, white heart cherry, and apricot – from Armenia to Rome. Subsequent sources were often confused about the origin of the species. John Claudius Loudon (1838) believed it had a wide native range including Armenia, the Caucasus, the Himalayas, China, and Japan.
Egyptians usually dry apricots, add sweetener, and then use them to make a drink called amar al-dīn.
In the 17th century, English settlers brought the apricot to the English colonies in the New World. Most of modern American production of apricots comes from the seedlings carried to the west coast by Spanish missionaries. Almost all U.S. commercial production is in California, with some in Washington and Utah.
|Apricot production (tonnes)|
Although the apricot is native to a continental climate region with cold winters, it can grow in Mediterranean climates if enough cool winter weather allows a proper dormancy. Apricots have a chilling requirement of 300 to 900 chilling units. A dry climate is good for fruit maturation. The tree is slightly more cold-hardy than the peach, tolerating winter temperatures as cold as −30 °C (−22 °F) or lower if healthy. They are hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. A limiting factor in apricot culture is spring frosts: They tend to flower very early (in early March in western Europe), meaning spring frost can kill the flowers. Furthermore, the trees are sensitive to temperature changes during the winter season. In China, winters can be very cold, but temperatures tend to be more stable than in Europe and especially North America, where large temperature swings can occur in winter. Hybridisation with the closely related Prunus sibirica (Siberian apricot; hardy to −50 °C (−58 °F) but with less palatable fruit) offers options for breeding more cold-tolerant plants. They prefer well-drained soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
Apricot cultivars are usually grafted onto plum or peach rootstocks. The cultivar scion provides the fruit characteristics, such as flavour and size, but the rootstock provides the growth characteristics of the plant. Some of the more popular US apricot cultivars are 'Blenheim', 'Wenatchee Moorpark', 'Tilton', and 'Perfection'. Some apricot cultivars are self-compatible and do not require pollinizer trees; others are not: 'Moongold' and 'Sungold', for example, must be planted in pairs so that they can pollinate each other.
Hybridisors have created what is known as a "black apricot" or "purple apricot", (Prunus dasycarpa), a hybrid of an apricot and the cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera). Other apricot–plum hybrids are variously called plumcots, apriplums, pluots, or apriums.
Pests and diseasesEdit
Apricots are susceptible to various diseases whose relative importance is different in the major production regions as a consequence of their climatic differences. For example, hot weather as experienced in California's Central Valley will often cause pit burn, a condition of soft and brown fruit around the pit. Bacterial diseases include bacterial spot and crown gall. Fungal diseases include brown rot caused by Monilinia fructicola: infection of the blossom by rainfall leads to "blossom wilt" whereby the blossoms and young shoots turn brown and die; the twigs die back in a severe attack; brown rot of the fruit is due to Monilinia infection later in the season. Dieback of branches in the summer is attributed to the fungus Eutypa lata, where examination of the base of the dead branch will reveal a canker surrounding a pruning wound. Other fungal diseases are black knot, Alternaria spot and fruit rot, and powdery mildew. Unlike peaches, apricots are not affected by leaf curl, and bacterial canker (causing sunken patches in the bark which then spread and kill the affected branch or tree) and silver leaf are not serious threats, which means that pruning in late winter is considered safe.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, world production of apricots in 2014 was 3.4 million tonnes, led by Uzbekistan with 16% (unofficial data) of the world total (table). Other top producers were Turkey, Iran, and Italy.
In a 100-gram amount, raw apricots supply 48 Calories and are composed of 11% carbohydrates, 1% protein, less than 1% fat and 86% water (table). Raw apricots are a moderate source of vitamin A and vitamin C (12% of the Daily Value each).
Dried apricots are a type of traditional dried fruit. The world's largest producer of dried apricots is Turkey. When treated with sulfur dioxide (E220), the color is vivid orange. Organic fruit not treated with sulfur dioxide is darker in color and has a coarser texture. When apricots are dried, the relative concentration of nutrients is increased, with vitamin A, vitamin E, potassium and iron having Daily Values above 25% (table).
Apricots contain various phytochemicals, such as provitamin A beta-carotene and polyphenols, including catechins and chlorogenic acid. Taste and aroma compounds include sucrose, glucose, organic acids, terpenes, aldehydes and lactones.
Apricot kernels (seeds) contain amygdalin, a poisonous compound. On average, bitter apricot kernels contain about 5% amygdalin and sweet kernels about 0.9% amygdalin. These values correspond to 0.3% and 0.05% of cyanide. Since a typical apricot kernel weighs 600 mg, bitter and sweet varieties contain respectively 1.8 and 0.3 mg of cyanide.
The Chinese associate the apricot with education and medicine. For instance, the classical word 杏 壇 (literally: "apricot altar") (xìng tán 杏坛) which means "educational circle", is still widely used in written language. Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher in the fourth century BCE, told a story that Confucius taught his students in a forum surrounded by the wood of apricot trees. The association with medicine in turn comes from the common use of apricot kernels as a component in traditional Chinese medicine, and from the story of Dong Feng (董奉), a physician during the Three Kingdoms period, who required no payment from his patients except that they plant apricot trees in his orchard upon recovering from their illnesses, resulting in a large grove of apricot trees and a steady supply of medicinal ingredients. The term "expert of the apricot grove" (杏林高手) is still used as a poetic reference to physicians.
The fact that apricot season is short has given rise to the common Egyptian Arabic and Palestinian Arabic expression filmishmish ("in apricot [season]") or bukra filmishmish ("tomorrow in apricot [season]"), generally uttered as a riposte to an unlikely prediction, or as a rash promise to fulfill a request.
In Middle Eastern and North African cuisines, apricots are used to make Qamar al-Din (lit. "Moon of the Religion"), a thick apricot drink that is a popular fixture at Iftar during Ramadan. Qamar al-Din is believed to originate in Damascus, Syria, where the variety of apricots most suitable for the drink was first grown.
The Turkish idiom bundan iyisi Şam'da kayısı (literally, "the only thing better than this is an apricot in Damascus") means "it doesn't get any better than this".
In the US Marines it is considered exceptionally bad luck to eat or possess apricots, especially near tanks. This superstition has been documented since at least the Vietnam War and is often cited as originating in World War II. Even naming them is considered unlucky, so they are instead called "cots", "Forbidden fruit" or "A-fruit".
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