What Is the Difference Between Sweet Cherries & Sour Cherries?

The two main types of cherries you'll find in commerce are sweet cherries and sour – or tart – cherries. Which do you like better? You may automatically vote for sweet cherries just because sour sounds unpleasant. But think again if you, like Billy Boy, are partial to cherry pies. The basic difference between a sweet cherry and a tart one is the flavor, and that dictates their use: Sweet cherries are for eating fresh, while tart cherries are for cooking.

Girls hands dress holding cardboard box of cherries, close-up
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What Is the Difference Between Sweet Cherries & Sour Cherries?

Cherries, Sweet and Tart

Both sweet and sour cherries are grown commercially in the United States. If you prefer sweet cherries, move to the Pacific Northwest because some 97 percent of the sweet cherries grown in the country come from Washington, California and Oregon. On the other hand, tart cherries thrive in Michigan, the top sour-cherry producing area of the United States.

Although this country produces quite a few cherries, it's not the top producer nation. Turkey takes that prize, with the United States, the European Union and Iran just behind.

Sweet Cherry Information

You don't need to do any research about the sweet cherry to figure out that it's sweet. These cherries are delicious when picked right off the tree or munched from the bag on the way home from the supermarket. Sweet cherry crops are almost all sold fresh.

Sweet cherries are large and colorful. All sweet cherry trees produce fruits that are different shades of red, including cherries that are pure red, red with yellow and an almost black cherry fruit. Popular types of sweet cherries include Bing and Ranier cultivars.

Sour Cherry Facts

Sour cherries are not sweet and luscious when munched raw. They are tart and also look different from sweet cherries. They tend to be smaller and have flesh that is softer. These cherries become delicious, however, when cooked with sugar or honey in pies, jams and relishes.

If you want an early tart cherry variety, the Early Richmond may be the first cultivar to fruit in spring. Its cherries are bright red. Next, comes Montmorency, which are also bright red, holding onto that vivid shade even when dried or frozen. Morello trees produce a dark cherry. All tart cherries come to harvest in summer, but they are usually only available in grocery stores in the areas where they are grown. Most people buy the dried, canned or frozen iterations.

Health Benefits of Cherries

Are dark, sweet cherries anti-inflammatory? Maybe. Most scientific studies have involved tart Montmorency cherries, with over 50 such studies done and research still ongoing. The research strongly suggests that these cherries have anti-inflammatory qualities and can help with muscle recovery and arthritis. Other studies claim that sour cherries contain Melatonin, a substance that helps regulate sleep.