All sweet cherries are best eaten out of hand, popped into your mouth as a snack or simple dessert, as raw and juicy as can be. The main difference between sweet cherries is that between red or black cherries, such as Bings, and yellow or pink sweet cherries, such as Rainiers. Darker cherries tend to have a deeper more intense flavor. Within each of those "types," varietals offer subtle taste differences and lots of options for regional growers to harvest different types at different... times since they have slightly different growing and ripening windows. See when to expect from some top sweet cherries below.
No matter kind cherries you're buying, look for fruits that feel heavy for their size, have fresh-looking stems, and no soft or browning spots. As with all berry-type fruits, rinse cherries clean and pat them dry only just before eating them—any moisture hastens decay, so it's best to wash them only just before eating or using.
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Bing cherries are the leading commercial sweet cherry. They are firm, juicy, large, and range from a rich to a deep mahogany color when ripe.
Like many sweet cherries, they have a distinctive heart shape. Bings are intensely sweet, with a vibrant flavor.
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Chelan cherries are early-ripening sweet cherries mostly grown in the Pacific Northwest. They ripen up to two weeks ahead of Bing cherries. They are quite large and firm, and they tend to be more round rather than as clearly heart-shaped as other sweet cherries. Like Bing cherries, they are deeply colored, very sweet, and often known as black cherries.
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Lapins CherriesLapins cherries are large, mahogany, firm, and quite sweet. They ripen about two weeks after Bing cherries but are only available for a week or two - grab them when they can.
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Rainier cherries are yellow inside and out, with just a bit of red blush on them, and exceptionally large. They are quite sweet and very firm.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
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Tulare cherries are less sweet than other sweet cherries, but they're still a beautiful dark red and fabulously delicious. In fact, they're perfect for people who like a little tart edge to their cherries.
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More Sweet Cherries
Notice a pattern? Lots of sweet cherry varieties look more or less the same. They have different harvest windows and varying levels of sweetness, but they are more or less interchangeable for most purposes. Other varieties to look out for include:
Lambert Cherries: Lambert cherries are large and firm with an even dark red color throughout. They are sweet enough to eat out of hand but keep a good texture when cooked. They have a nice long season that runs from mid-June to early August.
Sweetheart... Cherries: Sweetheart cherries are large and bright red. They are late ripening, coming at the end of the cherry season in July. They are very firm with a light, mild sweetness.
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Now that you know the difference between varieties of sweet cherries, and perhaps even gone to the farmers market to find some ripe cherries to call your own, if you're looking ways to use them, I've got you covered. Some yummy ways to use sweet cherries include:
Cherry Gin and Tonic muddles a few cherries into a classic cocktail to shockingly delicious effect.
Cherry Puffy Pancake adds fresh bursts of tart flavor to an easy breakfast treat.
Fresh Black Cherry Tart features all the bright... sweetness of fresh cherries on a sweet and tender crust.
Spiced Pickled Cherries highlights that unique cherry flavor to feature with pâtés or salami, in a salad, or added to any cheese plate.
If you find yourself with too many cherries to eat, don't worry, keeping them around a bit longer by preserving them is easier than pie. See how easy it is to freeze cherries here, or make Brandied Cherries—perfect for popping in a Manhattan cocktail.