Although the apricot is native to Northern China, its botanical name,Prunus armeniaca, was given to it by Greeks, who believed that it was first grown in Armenia. The Romans dubbed this fruit praecocium, meaning precocious, because it bloomed early in the season and from this name evolved apricot. The oil of the apricot kernel is very similar to that of its valuable cousin, the almond. Apricot oil is frequently used in place of bitter almond oil or added to almond oil to moderate the cost of production, though this may not be represented on the label.
Generally, there are sweet apricots and bitter apricots. Many varieties of apricots are cultivated for different reasons, including the time of year at which they will ripen and different properties of the fruit, including taste and texture.
The cultivated varieties primarily sweet apricots and wild apricots are generally bitter. The taste of the leaves and seeds were traditionally used as the guide, although the content of the seeds has been analyzed and found to vary in fat and nutrient content across cultivars. Sweet apricot kernel oil is used topically as massage oil and as an additive to soaps and skin care products. Sweet apricot kernel oil has a deep, nutty flavor and the extract is often added to recipes.
The kernel of the wild apricot is bitter and it contains varying amounts of amygdalin, depending on the variety, as do the seeds of other members of the Prunus family, including almonds, cherries and plums. When amygdalin is digested, the interaction with water and the bacteria of the gut produces cyanide. Because these constituents are toxic or lethal in very small doses, apricot kernels should not be eaten unless they have been roasted.
The apricot is cultivated worldwide for its flavor, medicinal value and nutritional properties. The fruit contains carbohydrates, vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin) C, E and K, potassium, beta-carotene and folate.
The kernels, which are generally not eaten whole, but used for their valuable oils, do contain up to 22% dietary protein. The kernels are dried and made into flour, which is rich in essential amino acids and fiber.
The sweet apricot varieties contain 40 to 50% oil, more than the kernel of the bitter apricot varieties. The fats found in the apricots kernel are mainly the unsaturated fats linoleic acid and oleic acid, which is an emollient and emulsifying oil common in many cosmetic products. Linoleic acid, a valuable unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, is an important part of a plant-rich, healthy diet.
The apricot kernel has similarities to almonds, including the beneficial fat, fiber and protein content. A study in Turkey examined the use of apricot flour to replace shortening in cookie recipes to improve the quality of fats and increase the fiber content of cookies. The apricot kernel flour made a harder cookie that had some trouble holding its shape, but participants found the cookies to be palatable when 10 to 20% of the shortening was replaced by apricot kernel flour. The flour is used in a traditional cake served at wedding ceremonies in India. The amygdalin content of apricots and their strong taste makes them a less viable option for consumers in the U.S. and their consumption is discouraged in Canada.
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