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For such a dainty little fruit, tart cherries pack quite a healthy punch. You may be most familiar with tart cherries—also called sour cherries, Montmorency cherries, or Morello cherries—as a cooking and baking ingredient or as a sweet-tart juice. They're a bright, pucker-worthy addition to anything from cocktails to vinaigrettes, and even better, they offer a ton of high-quality nutritional benefits.
"Tart cherries may have many health benefits that include boosting cognitive function, protecting cells from oxidative stress and inflammation, and improving the duration and quality of sleep," says Helen Agresti, RDN, owner of Professional Nutrition Consulting.
"Tart cherries have high levels of the [antioxidant and anti-inflammatory] compounds polyphenols and carotenoids, and also contain vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, to name a few," adds Christina Stapke, RDN, a registered dietitian trained in integrative and functional medical nutrition therapy.
Where to Find Tart Cherries
It's usually easy to find tart cherries in most forms. You'll likely be able to get frozen cherries at the grocery store all year, and fresh, in-season cherries (usually June through August) should also be available at the grocery store or a local farmers' market. Tart cherry juice is widely available, too, but be mindful of the amount of added sugar in the juice you choose.
Tart cherry supplements are an option, in either capsule or powder form, however, consuming this fruit in a supplement form will leave you lacking in its beneficial fiber, Stapke notes. It's always better to eat the whole, least-processed form for optimal health benefits (and flavor!).
Tart cherries on their own are extremely juicy and relatively low in sugar compared to some other fruits. That said, due to their uniquely bitter and tart taste, sour cherries are often cut with a fair amount of added sugar, especially when used in things like tart cherry juice, jams, or other desserts. But there are many ways to enjoy tart cherries and tart cherry juice—and all their health benefits—without the excess sugar. The tart flavor of cherry juice is an excellent addition to fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies, and breakfast bowls, for example, Agresti says.
Here are five healthy reasons to add tart cherries (or tart cherry juice) to your shopping list, plus some easy and creative ways to cook with them at home.
Tart Cherry Health Benefits
Tart cherries contain amino acids that promote sleep.
The rumors are true: Tart cherries are good for supporting sleep. These deep red beauties naturally contain melatonin and tryptophan, both of which are amino acids that help your body wind down and promote sleepiness. "I'll sometimes recommend that my patients take one to two ounces [of tart cherry juice] with their dinner so it doesn't spike their blood sugar too much and so they can get an extra boost of antioxidants while supporting their sleep," Stapke says.
Tart cherries help with muscle soreness and exercise recovery.
Due to its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant polyphenol compounds, tart cherry juice has been shown to be beneficial for reducing inflammation from intense exercise, aiding in workout recovery, and relieving/preventing muscle soreness, according to a growing body of research on the subject. A meta-analysis from 2021 published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, found evidence to support previous research: When consumed before and after strenuous exercise, tart cherries have a small beneficial effect in decreasing muscle soreness and even more notable benefits for muscle strength recovery.
Tart cherries fight inflammation and oxidative stress to prevent heart disease.
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, sour cherries can help protect against cardiovascular disease. A 2019 study in the journal Nutrients found that participants given 480 milliliters of tart cherry juice to drink daily for 12 weeks saw increased repair activity of plasma compared to a control group. The study findings also suggest that tart cherry juice helps lower systolic blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in older adults.
Tart cherries may help boost your immune system.
Tart cherries contain flavonoids, a group of plant pigments that act as antioxidants and support your immune system by fighting viruses and bacteria. Cherries are particularly rich in flavonoids called anthocyanins. While more research is required to fully understand the role of anthocyanins in immune system health, tart cherries' anthocyanin content may lend it antimicrobial properties that help fight bacteria and infections.
Tart cherries help improve cognitive functioning.
High-antioxidant, flavonoid-rich foods are excellent for your brain—and tart cherries have similar antioxidant levels to berries, one of the best types of foods to eat for brain health. According to one randomized controlled trial in the journal Food & Function from 2019, "daily [Montmorency] tart cherry juice consumption may improve cognitive abilities" such as learning and short-term memory, due to the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to reduce hypertension.
Tart Cherry Recipes
Sour Cherry Vinaigrette
Up your salad game with this bracing vinaigrette. It's smooth, tart, and sweet—but, needless to say, perfectly balanced. The flecks of chopped cherries stand out adding a nice bit of texture to the mix. Plus, it's super-versatile: Double the recipe and drizzle over roasted beets, or serve with grilled fish such as grouper, snapper or tuna steaks.
Cherry Gin Rickey
This refreshing gin cocktail is equal parts cool and tart and perfect for poolside or beachfront evenings. Lose the gin for a fun mocktail or kid-friendly sip.
Sour Cherry and Cranberry Slab Pie
We know what you're making for your next summer picnic. Feed—and seriously please—a crowd with this sweet, tart, and satisfying slab pie. This dessert piles on the pucker factor by pairing jarred sour cherries and frozen cranberries, while just the right amount of sugar and cream rounds out every bite.
Cherry-Bourbon Chicken Wings
These chicken wings are saucy, tangy, and all-around lip-smacking good. The cherries' sourness is balanced by the ketchup's sweetness and some brown sugar. And bourbon—cooked just long enough to remove the alcohol—adds distinct caramel notes.