Dried Fruit Primer
You know whether you prefer a Gala or a Granny Smith apple. But do you know a Medjool date from a Deglet Noor or a Mission fig from a Calimyrnaand how to use them in recipes? Follow our handy guide to selecting and cooking with an array of chewy, sweet dried fruit gems.
Apricots Turkish dried apricots are punch-pitted so the fruit stays whole and moist. Their tender texture is an asset in baked goods and salads. California dried apricots are halved. With their chewy texture and tartness, they do best in pies and savory recipes where they add flavor without being overly sweet.
Berries Freeze-dried berries (like the ones found in cereal mixes) are a snack favorite, but don't do well in most recipes. When cooking, choose dried blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, which have a texture similar to dried cranberries.
Cherries Dried cherries with no added sugar are available in tart varieties, such as Montmorency, and sweet varieties, such as Bing or Rainier. Both can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Cranberries Plain or flavored, dried cranberries are usually sweetened because they're too tart otherwise. They can be substituted for dried cherries in recipes.
Dates The two most common varieties you'll find are soft, sweet Medjool, and firm, chewy Deglet Noor. Choose Medjools for cookies, cakes, and raw cuisine; use Deglet Noor dates in stews and tagines because they hold up better when cooked.
Figs Smyrna and Calimyrna are large fig varieties with thick, creamy-beige to dark-brown skins and large seeds. Plumped in a hot liquid and diced, they can be added to baked goods and stews, or puréed for fillings (think Fig Newtons). Smaller black Mission figs from California have tiny seeds and a delicate flavor, making them best for snacking or adding to salads.
Prunes Most prunes, including mass-marketed California dried plums and gourmet pruneaux d'Agen from France, are made by drying d'Agen plums, though you can also find small-batch prunes made from sour plum varieties. If you think you don't like prunes, give the French and artisanal types a try; their more complex flavors will change your mind.
Raisins and Currants Snack-friendly raisins are usually made with Thompson seedless (also called Sultana) or Flame seedless grapes. Raisin colors range from dark reddish brown to green or golden. Dark raisins are sun-dried; green and golden raisins are mechanically dried and treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve their light color. Dried currants (sometimes called Zante currants) are made by drying small, sweet Corinth grapes. They are prized by pastry chefs for their dainty size and rich, intense flavor.
Avoid dried fruits that look soft or sticky or show "sugaring," a harmless coating of sugar that indicates they're not as fresh as they should be.
Buy organic to avoid trace pesticides (when fruit is dried, it is dried skin and all) and preservative sulfites.
For best flavor and texture, buy only enough dried fruit to last a month after you open the package. Store dried fruit in a resealable plastic bag in the fridge.