No one can deny that cherries are everywhere.
Whether they’re being used for decoration, flavoring in cough syrups, decals on shirts, or served in pies across the U.S., their reign is supreme.
So much so that cherries have become a brand – a mascot, even – for the United States.
And yet, despite all the attention, botanists have failed to create a pit-less cherry. But why?
Spoiler alert: It’s a major dilemma, one scientists have been trying to solve for years.
So, here’s why pit-less cherries have yet to grace our markets, and why you need to be extra careful when chowing down.
P.S. If you can tie a cherry stem with your tongue, you may want to do so a bit more carefully from now on.
What’s a Cherry Pit? Is it a Seed?
Cherry pits, like all other stone fruits, surround the vital seed. So, while they’re not the actual seed, the pits do encase them.
These pits, also called kernels or endocarps, are known for being hard and stony, hence the name stone fruit!
In fact, you can actually grow new cherries out of pits, though with great difficulty. Speaking of, if you want to propagate plants from store-bought cherries, think again.
Store-bought cherries will not produce the same cherries you bought.
Yep – those pits will grow a cherry tree that’s a blend of its two parent trees, like a little baby!
By the way, most cherry trees take at least five years to produce any fruit. Talk about an investment!
Are there Cherries Without Pits?
Actually, there aren’t any other stone fruits out there (peaches, plums, mangos) that we’ve bred to be pit-less.
The closest that humans ever got to doing this was way back in 1914, when Luther Burbank bred a partially stoneless plum.
There are two main reasons why scientists have struggled to breed pit-less cherries:
Unfortunately, to have a pit-less variety, either the quality or the size of the fruit has to be compromised.
Both those affect commercial value, hence the lack of fruition. But frankly, I wouldn’t want to eat a pitless cherry if it didn’t taste as good!
Fun fact: that same botanist and breeder, Luther Burbank, bred the russet Burbank potato, nowadays known as the russet potato.
What About Maraschino Cherries?
All cherries are created equal, which means they’re all born with pits, maraschinos included.
Maraschino cherries have their pits removed during the manufacturing process.
So, these sweet treats were grown and harvested with pits in them. Only by removing them one by one can we achieve pitless maraschino cherries.
This manufacturing process also involves soaking them in a sweet preserve that gives us the Shirley Temple flavor we all know and love.
How to Get the Pits Out of Cherries
First things first, you should always wash your cherries. Even homegrown ones need to be washed.
Eating stray pesticides, fertilizer, and all the other stuff that comes with growing crops is not good for the gut. So, again, please wash them well!
Next, de-stem them. Usually, you can pluck them off one by one, so it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
There are several ways of going about pitting cherries, like slicing them in half and scooping out the pit. However, today we’ll focus on two of the most common methods, no knives required.
Cherry-pitters are handheld devices that make pitting easy breezy. If you’re only going to pit a handful of cherries, I don’t think it’s worth buying a pitter.
However, let’s say you host an annual cherry pie festival with fresh, pit-full cherries. That seems worthy of a cherry-pitter to me!
Using a cherry-pitter is very simple. After washing and de-stemming a cherry, place it in the scoop. Press the ends together so they surround the cherry, and pop! The pit is out, leaving only a small hole behind.
Now, as for pitting by hand, there are several ways to go about this. The easiest is to use a stick-like object to push them out, like a straw. For this method, you could also use a chopstick or other household items.
Pro-Tip: If you have reusable straws, specifically metal ones, use those when cherry-pitting!
Now that the pits are out, you can toss ‘em in the compost or save them for a fun side project. Make a heating pad, simple syrup, or use them instead of rocks to promote good drainage in your potted plants!
How Long Will Pitted Cherries Last?
Fresh cherries can last up to three days sitting out on the counter, but more than double that in the fridge. Yes, stick ‘em in the fridge, and they’ll last between 5-10 days.
If you went picking and have a certifiable harvest, you can always freeze them for up to eight months as well.
Once open, maraschino cherries will last between 1-2 months in the pantry and up to one year in the fridge. Assuming they’re properly sealed and covered, that is.
Canned cherries can last between 12-18 months in a cool, dark and dry place, say your flood-free basement or dark storage room.
When it comes to resisting mold, it’s all about moisture. Those fresh cherries will go bad faster if they’re wet or even moist.
Make sure to only wash them immediately before eating. If you decide to wash them ahead of time, thoroughly dry them before placing them in the fridge.
Can I Give My Dog Pitted Cherries?
It depends on the dog. Since cherries are fruit, they have a higher sugar content, which may lead to an upset tummy for certain pups.
However, cherries (the flesh of the fruit only) are safe for dogs to eat and loaded with vitamins. That being said, the pits, stems, and leaves of cherries are both poisonous and a choking hazard.
So, if you’re desperate to feed your dog cherries, make sure they’re clean, pitted, and de-stemmed before sharing. The safety hazards are a risk, though.
If you want to incorporate more fruit into their diet, consider safer alternatives, like pumpkin or blueberries.
Are Cherry Pits Safe to Eat?
No, they are not. Cherry pits contain amygdalin, which is a cyanogenic glycoside.
Now, those are a lot of big words, but the important thing to remember is that our bodies will convert that chemical into a toxin called hydrogen cyanide. And we all know to stay away from cyanide.
Hydrogen cyanide can disrupt the way oxygen flows throughout our bodies, which could lead to organ failure.
In fact, it was used unsuccessfully for chemical warfare in World War I, as the gas was lighter than air and dispersed too fast. Still, clearly, it’s not something that should be messed with.
Hydrogen cyanide is only released from the pits when they’re bruised, chewed, or damaged in some way.
So, if you accidentally swallow a pit or two, you will probably be fine. That may not be the case if you bite down on them, chew them, or fully eat them. If you make a simple syrup with cherries (pits included), you’ll be fine, so long as you discard the pits after straining them out.
Luckily, cyanide toxicity only occurs when you consume between 0.2–1.6mg of the toxin per pound of your body weight.
So, let’s say you weigh 150 pounds. At that weight, you’d have to consume between 30–240mg of cyanide to become ill. That’s quite the range, of course, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
So, how much cyanide does one cherry pit contain? It all depends on the type of cherry! For example, black cherries have the least amount of amygdalin per gram of fruit, whereas Morello cherry pits have the most.
The latter has a whopping 65 mg of amygdalin per gram. Yikes! So, consuming just 7–9 pits of those delicious red and black cherries could lead to cyanide toxicity. With Morellos, it’s closer to 2–5 pits.
If you accidentally swallow or chew on the pits, there are some symptoms to watch out for.
If you experience any of the following, wipe or rinse out your mouth, drink lots of water, and call poison control: headache, nausea, convulsions, seizures, and difficulty breathing.
To sum up: always spit out the pits.
Scientists have yet to discover a way to create the elusive pit-less cherry, so you better get used to spitting them out!!
If chewed or bruised, those pits could cause cyanide toxicity, which is something we’d all like to avoid.
Sick of spitting them out? Use a cherry pitter to get rid of them before you even take your first bite! Those pit-less cherries make for delicious tanghulu! You could even save the pits to make a homemade heating pad or simple syrup.
Again, it’s best to spit out cherry pits and avoid eating them at all costs.