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Sweet Cherries vs Sour Cherries [5 Major Differences]

Fresh cherries come in two main varieties: sweet and sour. Sweet cherry varieties tend to be more popular and more widely available. They often taste better when fresh and as a part of vegetable or fruit dishes. Sour or tart cherries, by contrast, tend to be the variety of cherries used for savory dishes and desserts like cherry pies or cherry cobbler. Both types of cherry fruits grow well in most of the same regions so it all comes down to which variety you want for your cooking.

Sweet cherries vs sour cherries

5 Differences Between Sweet Cherries and Sour Cherries

Sweet cherries and sour cherries (also known as tart cherries) have many differences. Aside from the most obvious difference (taste) they have slightly different habitats and usages. Let’s dig into the differences between a sweet cherry variety and a sour cherry variety.

Taste

This is certainly the biggest and most obvious difference. Sweet cherries have a sweet flavor that is perfect for enjoying fresh and snacking on. If you’ve ever had a cherry on top of a sundae, it was almost certainly a sweet cherry. Tart cherries on the other hand have a slightly more acidic taste to offset the natural sweetness. This makes them difficult to enjoy on their own but this tart taste has plenty of practical cooking applications.

Cooking

Sweet varieties of cherry often aren’t great for cooking since they’re best enjoyed fresh. However, tart cherries are prized for cooking. The tart flavor of sour cherries works well in all manner of desserts like cherry pie or even in spreads like sour cherry jam. This is because sweet varieties are even sweeter when cooked, so they make desserts taste sickly sweet. The tart taste of sour cherries helps to balance desserts, which makes the sweetness more palatable.

Texture

Sweet varieties of cherry are known for being big with firm flesh. When you bite into one, it should feel a bit tough even when perfectly ripe. By contrast, sour cherry varieties are much more tender and delicate. It can sometimes feel like a sour cherry is falling apart in your mouth as you eat it.

Fresh vs. Canned

Sweet cherries are usually only available when fresh. Once they’re out of season, good luck finding them in your grocery store. Sour cherries, on the other hand, tend to be stored for long-term use and often wind up as canned cherries. This is because their flavor is hardier and benefits from cooking and aging in a way that sweet cherry flavor often doesn’t. This also means that tart cherry concentrate and other cherry extracts tend to come from sour cherries.

Cold Resistance

Sweet cherry trees and their fruit die easily in colder weather. Sweet varieties of cherry have low winter hardiness, which means they can only be grown in warmer regions. Tart cherries have slightly more cold resistance than their sweet cousins so they can grow in lower temperature regions. 

Are Dark Sweet Cherries the Same as Tart Cherries?

Tart cherries are different from dark cherries. As a rule, the darker the cherry, the sweeter it is. Therefore, black cherries are the sweetest. This is because a darker color is almost always a sign of a more intense flavor.

  • Dark sweet cherries are not the same as tart cherries.
  • Dark cherries are always exceptionally sweet.
  • Tart cherries stay bright red and do not darken.

Tart cherries always stay bright red, unlike sweet cherries. Tart cherries also retain their color even after cooking, being canned, or being turned into frozen cherries. Tart and sweet varieties are different from each other and cannot be used interchangeably. A dark cherry will never be the same as a tart cherry. 

Which Type of Cherries is the Sweetest?

Black cherries are always the sweetest cherries. The most popular type of black cherry is the Bing cherry which is prized for its intensely sweet flavor. However, the Bing cherry is not the only popular variety of black cherry. Chelan, Lambert, North Star, and Tulare are all nearly as popular. 

  • Black cherries are the sweetest cherries there are.
  • Fresh, dark cherries have the highest concentration of sugar.
  • Limit regular consumption of very sweet cherries to control blood glucose levels.

It is recommended that you don’t exceed the recommended daily dose of sweet cherries. Doing so can raise your blood glucose to unhealthy levels. The recommended cherry intake is 8 ounces or less a day, which is around 20–25 cherries.

What’s the Difference Between Sweet and Sour Cherries?

Sweet and sour cherries have plenty of discernable differences aside from taste. Here are the important differences between types of cherries:

  • Sweet cherries taste sweet while sour cherries taste tart.
  • Tart cherries are better for cooked dishes and desserts.
  • Sweet ones are best enjoyed when they are fresh.
  • Sweet cherries are thick and have firm flesh. 
  • Tart cherries are softer.
  • Sour cherries are better for canning, jam-making, and long-term storage.
  • A sweet cherry tree has less cold resistance than sour cherry trees.
  • Black cherries are always the sweetest cherries.

Now that you know the differences, you can easily select the right cherry for your purposes. If you’re making cherry jam or a cherry pie, use tart cherries. If you’d like cherries to snack on or mix into yogurt, buy sweet cherries.

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