What are sour cherries good for?

Sour cherries, also known as tart cherries, have become increasingly popular over the recent years due to their potential health benefits. Sometimes considered a “superfruit”, sour cherries are chock full of nutrients and antioxidants that can help fight disease and promote overall health and wellness.

Some of the top evidence-based health benefits of sour cherries include:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Lowering the risk of heart disease
  • Alleviating arthritis symptoms
  • Improving sleep and cognitive function
  • Enhancing exercise recovery

This article will take an in-depth look at the science behind sour cherries and explore exactly what makes them so good for you. We’ll also provide tips for how to incorporate more sour cherries into your diet.

What Are Sour Cherries?

Sour cherries, scientifically known as Prunus cerasus, are a tart variety of cherries that grow on small, bushy trees. Compared to sweet cherries, they have a much more sour, acidic taste.

There are several different kinds of sour cherries, including:

  • Montmorency – The most common variety in the US
  • Balaton – Larger and softer than Montmorency cherries
  • Danube – Very dark red cherries
  • Marasca – Light red cherries used to make maraschino liqueur
  • Amarelle – Extremely sour cherries common in Europe

Sour cherries are native to Eastern Europe and Asia but are now grown in countries around the world. They are smaller, softer, and more brightly colored than sweet cherries.

The sour cherry season runs from early to mid summer. Unlike sweet cherries, sour cherries have a very short fresh shelf life of only about 7-10 days. For this reason, most commercially grown sour cherries are either canned, frozen, juiced, or dried rather than sold fresh.

Montmorency is by far the most common variety of sour cherry used. In fact, it makes up about 95% of the commercial sour cherries grown in the United States (1).

Sour Cherry Nutrition Facts

Below is the nutritional content of 1 cup (140 grams) of raw sour cherries (2):

Calories 87
Protein 1.5 grams
Carbs 22 grams
Sugar 18 grams
Fiber 1.5 grams
Fat 0.3 grams
Vitamin C 10% DV
Copper 12% DV
Vitamin A 2% DV
Vitamin K 7% DV
Potassium 3% DV

As you can see, sour cherries are low in calories and fat and contain only natural sugar. They are a good source of vitamin C, copper, and vitamin A.

However, where sour cherries really shine is in their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrient content.

Sour Cherry Antioxidants and Phytonutrients

Sour cherries contain a variety of unique antioxidants and phytonutrients that are responsible for many of their health benefits. Here are some of the most important:


Sour cherries provide some of the highest concentrations of anthocyanins found in any food – even more than sweet cherries or blueberries (3).

Anthocyanins are antioxidant pigments that give cherries and other berries their bright red color. They protect against inflammation, diabetes, cancer, cognitive decline, and heart disease (4).


Quercetin is a flavonoid antioxidant found in citrus fruits, olive oil, dark green leafy vegetables, and berries.

This powerful anti-inflammatory has been shown to reduce blood pressure, decrease cholesterol levels, and protect against heart disease (5).

Hydroxycinnamic acids

Hydroxycinnamic acids are antioxidants that have been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth and decrease tumor size (6).


Cyanidin is an anthocyanin specifically found in cherries that displays strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. It may help reduce pain and is linked to anticancer effects (7).


Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep. Sour cherries contain small amounts of melatonin, which is believed to be one reason why they can improve sleep (8).

The combination of all these beneficial plant compounds gives sour cherries their medicinal properties and contributes to their long list of evidence-backed health benefits.

Top 7 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Sour Cherries

Here are 7 science-backed ways that sour cherries can improve your health:

1. Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is a normal process that helps the body heal from injury or infection. However, chronic inflammation throughout the body can contribute to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders (9).

Studies show that sour cherries have potent anti-inflammatory abilities. Tart cherry juice decreases inflammatory marker levels, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and nitric oxide (NO) (10, 11).

In one study, runners who drank tart cherry juice before and after a marathon had lower CRP levels than those who drank another fruit juice. Elevated CRP after long distance running is common and signals a state of inflammation (12).

Animal research also indicates that tart cherry anthocyanins help reduce inflammatory pain. Mice fed a diet supplemented with tart cherry anthocyanins had a reduction in inflammatory pain by over 30% compared to mice that didn’t receive cherries (13).

By reducing widespread inflammation, sour cherries may help lower the risk of inflammatory diseases.

2. Boost Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Risk factors like high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity can increase susceptibility to heart disease.

The antioxidants in tart cherries activate a process called autoregulation, which helps dilate blood vessels and regulate blood pressure. Anthocyanins, cyanidin, and quercetin in sour cherries have all been shown to reduce high blood pressure (14, 15, 16).

One 12-week study had participants with borderline high blood pressure drink either 2 cups (480 ml) of tart cherry juice or 1 cup (240 ml) of a placebo juice daily. The tart cherry juice group had significant reductions in systolic blood pressure compared to the placebo group (17).

Cherries’ ability to increase autoregulation may also help prevent atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up inside the arteries. Animal studies demonstrate that mice fed tart cherry powder have reduced atherosclerotic plaque buildup (18).

Furthermore, research shows that sour cherry phytonutrients decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol oxidation. Oxidized cholesterol molecules are more likely to stick to artery walls and form plaques (19).

Overall, the rich antioxidant content of sour cherries promotes healthy blood flow, reduces hypertension risk factors, and protects against atherosclerosis – all of which support better heart health.

3. Reduce Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis is a group of diseases characterized by joint inflammation, pain, and restricted mobility. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types.

The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in tart cherries may help alleviate arthritis symptoms. In particular, anthocyanins that give sour cherries their red color are effective at reducing arthritic inflammation (20).

In one small study, tart cherry juice decreased certain blood markers of inflammation by 25% in women with osteoarthritis. However, participants noticed no significant differences in pain levels (21).

Another study had osteoarthritis sufferers drink a concentrated tart cherry juice twice daily for 6 weeks. The cherry juice group had significant reductions in inflammation markers IL-6 and CRP compared to a placebo (22).

Some evidence shows that tart cherry juice reduces especially high sensitivity to pain in fibromyalgia patients (23).

Overall, preliminary research indicates that sour cherries can alleviate factors that contribute to arthritis pain and inflammation. More studies are still needed.

4. Improve Exercise Performance & Recovery

Proper rest and recovery after exercise is just as important as the exercise itself. Tart cherries may help speed up workout recovery time and reduce post-exercise muscle soreness.

In one study, marathon runners drank tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days prior to and on the day of a marathon. The cherry juice group had less muscle pain, stiffness, and strength loss after the race compared to the placebo group (24).

Similarly, male athletes who consumed tart cherry juice for 7 days before and 2 days after elbow flexor exercise had less strength loss and muscle soreness than control groups (25).

Researchers believe that the anti-inflammatory compounds in sour cherries like anthocyanins are responsible for quicker exercise recovery. Tart cherries reduce inflammation and oxidative damage done to muscles after workouts.

Through their vasoregulatory effects, sour cherries may also improve blood flow to muscles and deliver nutrients that aid recovery.

Athletes who supplement with tart cherry juice or concentrate can workout more efficiently, avoid overtraining injuries, and spend less time recovering.

5. Improve Sleep Quality

Trouble sleeping affects up to 70 million Americans (26). Getting adequate, high-quality sleep is incredibly important for cognitive function, mental health, and overall health.

Interestingly, sour cherries contain melatonin – the same hormone our bodies produce to regulate sleep. While the melatonin content in cherries is rather low, research indicates it can still impact sleep quality.

In one study, participants who drank 30ml of tart cherry juice concentrate twice daily for 2 weeks increased their time in bed by 84 minutes and sleep time by 34 minutes on average. They also reported better overall sleep efficiency compared to a placebo group (27).

The anthocyanins in sour cherries may also positively influence sleep. Mice studies show that antioxidant-rich cherry extract improves sleep in normal and
insomniac mice (28, 29).

By boosting melatonin levels and reducing inflammation, the compounds in tart cherries can help improve both the quantity and quality of sleep.

6. Support Brain Function

The potent antioxidants in sour cherries support overall brain health in several ways. Studies show they can boost cognitive function, protect against neurodegeneration, and alleviate mood disorders.

The anthocyanins in tart cherries cross the blood-brain barrier and localize especially in the hippocampus area of the brain associated with memory (30).

Animal research demonstrates that mice fed an anthocyanin-rich cherry diet had significant improvements in cognitive performance on memory-related maze tests compared to control groups (31).

In humans, daily cherry juice concentrate improves cognitive performance in older adults with mild cognitive impairment after just 12 weeks (32). Participants had enhanced verbal fluency, short-term memory, and long-term memory compared to placebo groups.

Beyond cognitive function, there’s evidence that the anti-inflammatory abilities of tart cherries reduce brain cell deterioration associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases (33, 34).

Finally, the melatonin in sour cherries may help regulate mood. Study participants who drank tart cherry juice daily had decreased anxiety and insomnia after 2 weeks (35).

7. May Inhibit Cancer Cell Growth

Limited studies indicate that the antioxidant compounds found in tart cherries reduce cancer cell proliferation and tumor growth. However, much more research is needed.

In vitro studies demonstrate that sour cherry anthocyanins inhibit the growth and spread of colon, breast, lung, and prostate cancer cells (36, 37).

One mouse study showed that mice injected with breast cancer cells had significantly less tumor growth and metastasis when fed a cherry powder diet. The cherry diet also extended overall survival time compared to control groups (38).

While this early research is promising, keep in mind that these are experimental studies using isolated cancer cells or animal models. Further clinical trials are needed to determine if a similar anti-cancer effect exists in humans.

How to Add More Sour Cherries to Your Diet

Here are some easy ways to incorporate more sour cherries into your daily routine:

Enjoy fresh cherries during peak season – Try adding fresh cherries as a topping on yogurt, oatmeal, or salads. Keep in mind that fresh sour cherries only last about a week in the fridge.

Use frozen, canned, or dried cherries – Frozen and dried tart cherries have a longer shelf life. You can add them to sauces, baked goods, trail mixes, or smoothies. Opt for no sugar added varieties when possible.

Drink tart cherry juice – Sour cherry juice provides the highest concentration of nutrients. Look for 100% pure, unsweetened juice with no added sugars. Tart cherry juice concentrate is also very potent.

Cook with tart cherry juice – Use small amounts of tart cherry juice to deglaze a pan for sauces or add flavor to marinades for savory dishes. Or make a cherry glaze for chicken, pork, or beef.

Consider supplements – If you can’t get enough cherries through food, supplements containing concentrated cherry powder or extract are widely available.

Try tart cherry extract powder – Stir a teaspoon of tart cherry extract powder into water, tea, oatmeal, or post-workout shakes. Be sure to buy 100% cherry powder with no added fillers.

Aim for around 1 cup of fresh cherries or 1 ounce of concentrate daily to get the antioxidant benefits. Look for organic, non-GMO cherries when possible.

Potential Side Effects

When eaten in normal food amounts, sour cherries do not have any significant side effects for most people. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • – Tart cherry juice may interact with certain medications like blood thinners. Talk to your doctor before consuming large amounts
  • – Can cause mild digestive upset or diarrhea when eaten in excess
  • – Contain oxalate so individuals with kidney stones or gout should moderate intake
  • – Larger doses may cause drowsiness due to the melatonin content
  • – Cherry pits contain trace amounts of cyanide. Be sure to properly pit and spit out the pits

In general, sour cherries are very safe when enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Those with specific medication or health conditions should discuss incorporating more cherries with their doctor.


Sour cherries provide a wide array of science-backed health benefits. Their rich supply of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds can improve sleep, exercise recovery, heart health, brain function, arthritis, and more.

Tart cherries reduce oxidative stress and inflammation throughout the body, which can help prevent and alleviate chronic diseases.

While research is still emerging, the preliminary evidence supporting sour cherries’ medicinal powers is strong.

Adding more cherries to your diet is a safe and easy way to give your overall health a boost. Enjoy their short seasonal peak fresh or opt for frozen, dried, or juiced tart cherries any time of year.

Let tart cherries be your secret superfruit weapon for fighting disease, staying active, and feeling your best.

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