What is a Sour Cherry?

C. Ausbrooks

A sour cherry, sometimes referred to as pie or tart cherry, is a small, fruit-producing tree native to Europe and Asia. The small, dark red to black colored cherries produced by the tree are acidic and used primarily for cooking. Sour cherry grows to a height of approximately 13-30 feet (4-10 meters) in height, and has twiggy branches with the cherries developing on shorter stalks.

Sour cherries are often made into preserves.
Sour cherries are often made into preserves.

Sour cherries were cultivated as early as 300 BCE by the ancient Greeks. They were also popular amongst Persians and Romans, who introduced the fruits to Britain before the 1st century CE. The sour cherry remains popular today around the world, but particularly in Iran.

Sour cherries are often referred to as pie cherries.
Sour cherries are often referred to as pie cherries.

The cultivation of sour cherries was popularized in Britain in the early 16th century. By the 1640s, more than twenty different sour cherry cultivars were named. By the time of the Second World War, more than fifty different cultivars were known in England. In modern times, very few of these are grown for commercial purposes.

Sour cherries are native to Europe and Asia.
Sour cherries are native to Europe and Asia.

Sour cherry trees require rich, well-drained, moist soil to thrive. It also has a higher water and nitrogen requirement than its cousin, the sweet cherry tree. Although most varieties of sour cherry are too large for the backyard garden, smaller dwarf varieties have recently become available. These garden-friendly varieties require regular maintenance, including protecting flowers, mulching, weeding, and fertilizing in the spring.

There are many health benefits to eating fresh sour cherries daily because of their levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
There are many health benefits to eating fresh sour cherries daily because of their levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Many gardeners prefer the sour cherry because it is not prone to pests and diseases like the sweet cherry. It is more susceptible to fruit loss from birds, and the fruit must be protected with netting during the summer months. Harvesting of the ripened fruit consists of cutting the cherries from the tree rather than pulling them from the stalk. The cherries are delicate and this practice reduces the risk of damage.

Eating sour cherries fresh is a common practice in the Middle East. However, in other parts of Europe, as well as the United States and Canada, the cherries are too sour for most palates. They are most frequently used in cooking soups and dishes made with pork. When cooked with sugar, their natural acidity is balanced, and the flavor and aroma are brought to the forefront. Many different liqueurs, preserves, drinks, and deserts are made with sour cherries, or sour cherry syrup.

Sour cherries contain fewer calories than the sweet varieties, due to their lower sugar content. They are rich in vitamin C, carbohydrates, and water. Sour cherries also include trace amounts of fiber, protein, vitamin A, niacin, calcium, riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and vitamins B1 and B2.

Sour cherries are very popular in Iran.
Sour cherries are very popular in Iran.

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Discussion Comments


One of my favorite restaurants has a pork entree on the menu that comes with a side mixture of sour cream and sour cherry fruit mixed together.

I had no idea how this would taste, but when I dipped pieces of pork into this mixture, it tasted wonderful. I would have never thought about using sour cherries like this to eat along with a meat dish.

The saltiness of the meat and the sour taste of the cherries and sour cream was a great combination. I have never tried this at home, but I usually always order this when I visit that restaurant.

After eating pork with this combination, it seems kind of plain without it.


I used to think buying a bag of dried sour cherries seemed kind of expensive. That is until I decided I would try doing it myself. By the time you go through all the steps required (including picking the cherries), I realized buying a bag was a real bargain.

I know some people enjoy doing this, but I feel like my time is better spent doing something else I enjoy. I will often mix up my own trail mix and like to add some dried cherries to the mix.

These are cherries that I have already purchased that have been dried. I know some people dry their own cherries in a dehydrator, but I like buying them in the package, and mixing up my own trail mix full of my favorite fruits and nuts.


When I was a kid we had a sour cherry tree in our yard. My mom used to make batches of sour cherry chutney and I have carried on the tradition.

I don't have my own sour cherry tree, but will buy the cherries and make my own chutney. Along with the sour cherries, my recipe includes sugar, apple cider vinegar, some red onion, ginger, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.

If you have never tasted this, the list of ingredients sounds like a strange combination, but I love to use this on crackers and with roasted meats.

It has kind of a sweet and sour taste to it that really complements the taste of just about any kind of grilled or roasted meat.


I love spreading sour cherry preserves on my toast in the morning. If you get tired of the traditional grape or strawberry jam, this is a nice change.

With sugar being added to the preserves, you still have a sweet taste, but there is still a little bit of tartness that comes through as well.

I can't usually find this at my regular grocery store, but look for it at gourmet stores that have specialty products. It also makes a nice gift for someone when you are staying in their home.

I have never made my own preserves, but like to try different kinds of fruit, and sour cherry has become one of my favorites.

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