Although its origins are still unclear, the apricot grew wild in what is now northeastern China between four and five thousand years ago.
It is not known exactly how it arrived in Europe. It is generally thought that it came via the Silk Road.
What is certain is that the Ancient Greeks and Romans ate apricots. The subsequent expansion of the apricot around the Mediterranean basin was the work of the Arabs. The name of this fruit comes from the Arab al-birquq, which means “early-ripening”. This is because apricots blossom in the early spring.
It did not arrive in France until the 15th century. However, it was blamed for producing fevers and was therefore despised and hardly cultivated at all. It was not until the time of Louis XIV that it began to extend: the Sun King had apricots planted in the gardens at Versailles. However, the cultivation of this fruit only really took root in the south of the country in the following century.
The apricot arrived in the Americas through Spanish missionaries, who took them to California and Chile. Their popularity grew quickly and apricots are widely grown there today.
The intensity of the color of an apricot is not an indication of its quality or ripeness, but depends on the variety.
A ripe apricot has smooth skin (not fuzzy), with flesh that is tender, a little juicy, sweet, and perfumed.
You can tell how ripe it is with your fingers, so feel the fruit gently. Discard any fruit with bruises and white spots, or any that are too soft.
Dried apricots should be an appealing orange color, and soft and smooth to the touch. If they are too small, pale yellow or wrinkled, they were picked unripened and are not of good quality.
Umeboshi are Japanese salted and dried apricots. They are either eaten as they are, or marinated with purple sisho leaves.
Fresh: apricots are displayed in bulk and are sold by weight. They can also be pre-packaged in small baskets. Depending on its size, a fruit weights 40–80 grams.
Frozen: in halves, simply pitted and cut in two.
Canned: apricot halves in juice or in syrup.
Dried: in bulk.
Apricots should always be washed before use, and not peeled.
It is predominantly used in pastries and desserts, in tarts and clafoutis, in ice cream and sorbet, in fruit salads, or in pan-fried dishes.
It can be made into jam and preserved in brandy.
Dried apricots can be used as they are, with no need for rehydrating, as part of a sweet or savory filling, in chutney, and in seasonings.
They are rehydrated to make compote.
An Italian liqueur, Amaretto, is made using apricot kernels.
Fresh apricots should be stored at room temperature; refrigeration will spoil their flavor. It is better to spread them out than to stack them on top of each other.
Dried apricots should be stored in a plastic container in a cool, dry place.
Fresh: apricots contain large amounts of protective antioxidants, particularly carotenes (which give them their orange coloring).
They are also rich in fiber and minerals, especially potassium. But they contain relatively few vitamins.
Like all fruit, apricots contain carbohydrates, practically no proteins, and even less fat. Their main component is water.
Dried: with most of their water removed, dried apricots have their carotenes, fiber, and minerals concentrated. Their high carbohydrate content makes them an energy food, highly appreciated by athletes.
The apricot kernel contains cyanogenic glycosides that can turn into hydrogen cyanide, also known as cyanide. It should only be used in small quantities.
80% of the world’s production of apricots comes from the countries of the Mediterranean basin. The rest comes from warm countries around the world.
In Europe and France, the different apricot varieties become available between the end of May and the end of August. Among them are:
- Early Blush: US variety, oval and slightly flattened fruit, orange and red. Late May to late June.
- Tomcot: round, deep orange and red fruit. Late May to June.
- Orangered: very large fruit, coppery orange to bright red. June.
- Goldrich, Jumbo Cot: very large, firm fruit, slightly sharp flavor. Mid-June to mid-July.
- Lambertin: medium-size fruit, dark orange. Late June.
- Rouge de Roussillon:medium-size fruit, orange with red blush. Firm but highly perfumed. Late June to mid-July.
- Luizet: large, elongated fruit, pale but perfumed flesh. July.
- Orangé de Provence, Polonais: very large fruit, orange and red variegated. Firm but good-quality flesh. July.
- Bergeron: very large fruit, one side red, the other orange. Firm flesh, not very juicy. Mid-July to late August.
Turkey, Iran, and California are the leading producers.
After harvesting, the apricots are sorted, washed, pitted, and dried in an oven, a dryer, or under the sun.
They are commonly treated with steam containing sulfur dioxide to ensure better preservation. Organic dried apricots do not undergo this process.