Compact, juicy, and colorful, cherries are nicely supplied with nutrients, notably pectin (a soluble fiber that helps control blood cholesterol levels), vitamin C, and beta-carotene, with some potassium. (Sour cherries, which are sometimes called "pie cherries," have considerably more vitamin C than sweet cherries do, though much of it is lost when the cherries are cooked.) Cherries are also high in a number of phytochemicals, including: anthocyanins (pigments responsible for the red and blue colors of fruits and vegetables), which may have anticancer properties based on their antioxidant activities that defend cells against harmful carcinogens); and quercetin, a so-called flavonoid, which is an antioxidant and may have both anticancer potential as well as anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic properties. It is this anti-inflammatory activity that has made cherries (specifically cherry juice) of interest to people who suffer from gout. There's even a possible dental health bonus in that studies have shown that a substance (not yet identified) in cherry juice may help prevent tooth decay. Although some people find the cherry pit an annoying feature, their only other shortcoming is their brief season, which lasts less than 3 months. But during that time, they are in abundant supply. Cherries are grown successfully in commercial quantities in only 20 countries, and the U.S. is one of the leading producers. Seventy percent of the cherries produced in the U.S. come from four states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah. Varieties There are two basic categories of cherry: sweet and sour. Sweet cherries are further differentiated by color: dark- and light-skinned cherries. Of the dark-skinned cherries, Bing is far and away the commonest, but other red- or dark-skinned varieties include the Van, Chapman, Larian, and Black Republican. Bing: There are many commercial varieties of sweet cherries, but the leader is the Bing, a large, round, extra-sweet cherry with purple-red flesh and a deep red skin that verges on black when fully ripe. Lambert: The second most popular variety is the Lambert, a smaller, heart-shaped red cherry similar in taste and texture to the Bing. Rainier: The Rainier, a sweet cherry with yellow or pinkish skin, is grown in limited quantities and is milder and sweeter than the Bing. Royal Ann: Another light-skinned variety, the Royal Ann, is often canned or made into maraschino cherries. Sour cherries: Most commercially grown sour varieties--such as Montmorency, the best known--are canned or frozen for use as pie fillings or sauces, although you can occasionally find fresh sour cherries during the summer months at farmers' markets and roadside stands. Sour cherries are smaller than sweet cherries and are a bright scarlet. Availability Bing cherries are usually available from the end of May through early August, with their peak in June and July. Lamberts, Vans, and other Bing look-alikes appear in markets until mid-August. Keep in mind that the varieties appearing earliest and latest in the season are softer and less sweet than Bings. Any fresh cherries sold after August probably come from cold storage. Small quantities of sweet cherries are imported from New Zealand during the winter months.