Ingredient Focus: Cherries

When bright red cherries start appearing at the market, it's official: summer is here. Cherry season starts in June and continues through early August. Whether it's a yellow and red Ranier or a deep maroon Bing variety, cherries bring a smile (and a stain) to many a cherry-lovers face. Cherries are packed with antioxidants, making them a great choice for a healthy snack. Pair with yogurt or ricotta for a healthy dessert, or simply eat plain at the end of a hot June day.

* What to look for: When buying cherries, be sure they are shiny and blemish-free with bright green stems. Another great summer pastime is cherry picking; when picking cherries, be sure to pick from the branch and keep it attached until you're ready to eat.

* A Healthy Snack: Cherries are jam-packed with nutrients including Anthocyanins, which are used by the body to produce essential amino acids. Anthocyanins are also what give flowers, berries and other fruits their vibrant colors and happen to be a great anti-inflammatory for your body. Cherries are natural melatonin carriers, which can be used as a sleep aid and a natural pain reliever. So next time you have aches and pains, reach for some cherries!Like most fruits cherries contain vitamin C, which can protect against immune system deficiencies and even help wrinkles!

* Great For Your Digestive System: Cherries are also high in fiber, which helps your digestive system. Including fiber in your diet can help reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer and since cherries are a great source, you get health benefits as well as fruity snacks!

* Storage Instructions: Don't let that gorgeous fruit go to waste. Cherries can be stored in your refrigerator for up to 5 days but you can also freeze them by laying them flat onto a baking sheet and freezing until firm then storing in plastic bags. Eat cherries with anything from yogurt to chocolate, or use them in your muffin recipes or fruit salads. The possibilities are endless!

What is your favorite way to eat cherries?

Photo: Dudley Carr on flickr