What are black cherries? Black cherries are a type of dark-colored sweet cherries with a dark red to dark purple, almost black color. There are two types of black cherries: wild and cultivated. Of the cultivated kind, there are quite a few different varieties with fruits differing slightly in size, color, taste and flavor profile, sweetness, acidity and juiciness as well as nutritional value. Compared to the more common red cherries, black cherries are higher in pigmented anthocyanin antioxidants which is believed to render them healthier, at least in terms of their antioxidant effects.
What do black cherries look and taste like?
Black cherries are botanical drupes or stone fruits, meaning each cherry has one hard pit or stone with a seed or kernel inside at its center. Other drupes or stone fruits include apricots, nectarines, peaches, olives or plums. Black cherries are at least 1-2 cm in size, or larger in some cultivars. Despite their name, black cherries typically range in color from dark red to red-purple to dark purple (not quite black). Fruits may be either meatier or juicier, sweeter or more astringent or even slightly bitter, depending on the cultivar. Typically the ripe the fruits, the better tasting they are. Unripe black cherries are green and turn increasingly darker as they ripen, going from a pinkish-red to dark red and ultimately dark purple. As they ripen, they become less sour tasting. The seeds or kernels taste bitter.
Can you eat black cherry pits and seeds?
You can technically eat black cherry fruit whole: skin, pulp, pits and seeds. However, only the fleshy part of the fruit, that is, the skin and pulp, is both edible and safe to eat. The hard pit is not edible in the sense that it is not digested. In other words, if you eat a few black cherries whole, pits included, the cherry pits will most likely come out as they came in. If you eat too many pits, it may result in side effects such as constipation or, in extreme cases, intestinal blockages.
Black cherry seeds on the other hand are digestible, but not safe to eat. While you can eat one or two cherry seeds without experiencing major side effects, know that the seeds contain amygdalin. Amygdalin is a cyanogenic glycoside, essentially a toxin that, when metabolized, releases the poison known as cyanide. Accidental or even voluntary consumption of one or two whole cherries or just cherry pits causes minimal toxicity, but does not usually pose any health risks. But as little as half a cup of black cherry seeds may actually prove fatal, depending on the amygdalin content of the seeds which varies with cultivar. So while you can eat black cherry or other cherry seeds, just because they are digestible that does not mean they are safe to eat (they’re not actually; they’re toxic).
Are black cherries good for you?
Black cherries are a valued food item, praised for both their taste and nutrition and health benefits. There are a lot of health claims about eating black cherries. For example, the fruit is said to cure high blood pressure and high blood sugar and even insomnia and gout. But that’s not quite true. Yes, eating black cherries is good for you in the sense that they actively contribute to your nutritional status and promote good health. Frequent consumption of the fruit as part of a varied, balanced and overall clean diet will help benefit multiple aspects of health. But black cherries are definitely not a definitive cure for anything, be it high blood pressure, high blood sugar, insomnia or gout.
The nutrition value of black cherries is relatively similar to that of red cherries, with a few exceptions. For one, black cherries have a different antioxidant profile with significantly higher amounts of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are red, purple, blue and black pigmented antioxidants and are found in the highest concentrations in fruits and vegetables of a dark color such as black cherries, black tomatoes or black carrots. The general rule is: the darker the cherry color, the higher the anthocyanin antioxidants content. Other antioxidants value may also vary according to cultivar, fruit maturity, processing undergone and more factors.
Secondly, black cherry is an umbrella term for essentially dark-colored sweet cherry varieties. Depending on the usage of the term, black cherry may refer exclusively to dark purple to almost black sweet cherry fruits or it may refer to cherry fruits anywhere from a darker red to red-purple to dark purple to almost black. In other words, black cherries are really dark-colored cherries. Considering the leniency of the term as well as the fact that even the same types of fruits of the same variety from the same season will most likely not be identical nutritionally speaking, it is to be expected that there will be at least minor differences in nutrient value between all the different types of black cherry fruit.
- Sweet red and black cherries nutrition facts per 100 g:
- Energetic value: 60+ kilocalories (kcal)
- Fat: 0.2 g
- Protein: around 1 g
- Carbohydrates: 16 g
- Sugars: 12.8 g (exact content may vary according to fruit sweetness, maturity etc.)
- Dietary fiber: around 2 g
- Vitamins in black cherries:
- Vitamin A: 0.03 mcg (micrograms) (trace amounts) primarily from the antioxidant carotenoid beta-carotene
- Vitamin B1: 0.027 mg
- Vitamin B2: 0.033 mg
- Vitamin B3: 0.154 mg
- Vitamin B5: 0.199 mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.049 mg
- Choline: 6.1 mg
- Vitamin B9: 4 mcg (micrograms)
- Vitamin B12: 0 mcg
- Vitamin C: 7 mg
- Vitamin D: 0 mcg
- Vitamin E: 0.07 mg (trace amounts)
- Vitamin K: 2.1 mcg
- Minerals in black cherries:
- Calcium: 13 mg
- Copper: 0.06 mg
- Iron: 0.36 mg
- Magnesium: 11 mg
- Manganese: 0.07 mg
- Phosphorus: 21 mg
- Potassium: 222 mg
- Selenium: 0 mcg
- Sodium: 0 mg
- Zinc: 0.07 mg
Note: For the most part, black cherries have a nutritional profile and nutrient values similar to sweet red cherries.
Black cherries properties
- Good fiber content (2 g/100 g)
- Relatively high carbohydrate content (16 g/100 g)
- Moderate sugar content (12.8 g/100 g)
- Low glycemic index value of 20, 25
Find out more about the glycemic index of cherries.
- almost equal fructose to glucose ratio (5.4 g of fructose vs 6.6 g of glucose per 100 g)
- High antioxidant content
- High anthocyanins content
What are the benefits of eating black cherries?
- Good source of fiber for a healthy gut microbiome, promoting the health of the gut environment with benefits for digestive health, innate vitamin synthesis and the immune function.
- Laxative properties thanks to a good fiber content and profile with benefits for constipation relief.
- Minor benefits for gums and teeth health thanks to vitamin C content.
- Good food to eat for nausea: black cherries are light and easy on the stomach and a source of organic acids which help combat the sensation of nausea.
- Good food to eat for an upset stomach: the fruit is high in water, thus hydrating, and a source of several essential vitamins and minerals with a revitalizing effect.
- Low in calories and fat and a source of essential vitamins and minerals, black cherries are a good food to eat for healthy weight loss.
- Benefits for blood pressure. With a good potassium content and modest content of magnesium, but naturally sodium-free, black cherries are a good food to eat for high blood pressure.
- Potential benefits for insomnia and disturbed sleep. Studies show sour cherries are important sources of melatonin, a component which serves as a neurohormone in plants and animals, regulating circadian rhythms. By extrapolation, sweet cherries such as black cherries are also believed to be a source of melatonin and potentially represent a natural sleep aid solution.
- Benefits for blood sugar. While high in carbohydrates and relatively high in sugar, black cherries are a good source of fiber and have a low glycemic index score which means they do not raise blood sugar levels too much too fast, if consumed reasonably.
- Rich in antioxidants. Cherries in general and dark-colored cherries such as black cherries are a high-antioxidant food with both in vitro and in vivo antioxidant activity (study), including free radical scavenging activity, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative and antitumor properties as well as antiaging effects.
- Anti-inflammatory benefits. Cherries in general and sour cherries in particular have been found to have prominent anti-inflammatory properties and consumption is reported to produce benefits for inflammatory conditions such as gout, arthritis and exercise-related muscle soreness.
- Potential benefits for arthritis pain. Antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, in cherries have important anti-inflammatory effects, inhibiting multiple inflammation pathways with benefits for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. In one study, consumption of sweet cherries for 28 days has been found to reduce blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and nitric oxide (NO) in healthy subjects (study). Reduction of nitric oxide and its reaction products reduces oxidative stress and tissue injury, with direct benefits for joint swelling, tenderness and pain common in inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
- Potential benefits for gout. Contrary to popular claims, eating cherries does not represent a cure for gout, but can benefit the condition and possibly also reduce flareups. Black cherries and cherries in general are good foods to eat for gout because they are low in purines and do not contribute to flareups. More important, cherries, and sour cherries too, are one of the best anti-inflammatory foods, actively contributing to preventing gout flareups, reducing the incidence gout attacks by up to 35% in some cases (study).
Note: Not everyone will experience the same range of benefits from eating black cherries or any other food for that matter. Some people might find black cherries are especially good for them, while others might consider it’s best for them to eat the cherries less often due to experiencing side effects.
What are the side effects of black cherries?
Even the healthiest foods have side effects, black cherries included. For the most part, the side effects are a result of overeating and include:
- Diarrhea. Eating too many black cherries or cherries in general can result in loose stools and diarrhea and associated symptoms such as painful abdominal cramps, gas or bloating. Find out more side effects of eating cherries.
- Constipation. In rare cases, eating black or other cherries may result in constipation, especially if the fruit are consumed whole, with pits.
- Allergic reaction. Proteins in the fruit known as PR or Pathogenesis-related proteins are responsible for cherry allergy. If you are allergic to red sweet cherries, you might also be allergic to black sweet cherries. Find out more about cherry allergy.
- Teeth sensitivity. Eating black cherries promotes teeth and gums health thanks to anti-inflammatory components, but organic acids in the fruit can eat away at tooth enamel causing teeth sensitivity over time. It’s advised to brush your teeth sometime after eating.