Nothing beats fresh summer produce, and sweet cherries, with their naturally delicious flavor and short season, top the list. Best eaten straight out of hand, you can enjoy this juicy fruit as a simple snack or as dessert. There are many types of sweet cherries, with a handful of varieties commonly found in stores and at farmers markets. Some fruit lovers prefer red or black cherries, such as Bing, while others love the taste of yellow and pink varieties, like Rainier.
As a general rule, the darker the cherry, the more intense the flavor. And while each variety offers a subtle taste difference, they also have slightly different growing seasons and ripening windows, allowing regional growers to harvest cherries all summer long. Read on to learn about the characteristics and timing of some favorite summer varieties.
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Like many types of sweet cherries, Bing cherries have a distinctive heart shape. This variety is usually the first to show up in national markets, as they are the leading commercial sweet cherry. In fact, Bings are so popular that in Washington state, where most American cherries are grown, they are used to measure the growing season of other varieties. Cherry seasons are described as a number of days before or after Bings (for example, two weeks before Bing).
Firm, juicy, and large, Bing cherries range in color from a deep red to rich mahogany when ripe. Bing cherries are intensely sweet with a vibrant aftertaste.
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Chelan cherries, otherwise known as "black cherries," grow in the Pacific Northwest and ripen early, beating out Bing cherries by up to two weeks (mid-June). This round sweet cherry is also firm in texture and mild in taste. Similar to Bing cherries, Chelan cherries carry a deep mahogany color and sweet flavor. This variety is less susceptible to rain cracking, allowing it a longer shelf life than that of its counterpart.
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A crossbreed between the Vans and Stella varieties, Lapins cherries can grow to up to one inch in size and are hardy, deep red in color, and quite sweet and flavorful. This type of sweet cherry ripens about two weeks after the Bing cherry and is only available for a short window of a few weeks. Grab them while you can.
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Rainier cherries are the industry's sweetheart. Yellow both inside and out, with just a splash of red blush, these two-toned cherries boast a mild, sweet flavor that hints at tartness. Named after Washington's largest peak, Mount Rainier, Rainier cherries ripen just after Bing in June and are often available through August for those lucky enough to find them locally.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Tulare cherries are tarter than other types of sweet cherries, but they still have the same dark red appearance of the Bing and the Chelan varieties. They are perfect for people who like a noticeably tangy aftertaste to their fruit. A second-generation seedling of the Bing, Tulare cherries grow in California and ripen about one week earlier than their close relative.
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Lambert cherries are large with an even bright red color throughout. They are sweet enough to eat straight out of hand but they are also great for baking, as they maintain their texture when cooked. Lambert cherries are available for most of the summer, from mid-June to early August.