What’s the difference between sweet and tart cherries?

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Both sweet and tart cherries are rich in polyphenols,[1] particularly anthocyanins, and demonstrate the potential to improve a myriad of health outcomes.[2] Tart cherries contain higher amounts of vitamin A and beta-carotene than sweet cherries.[3]

The concentration and composition of polyphenols varies between different cultivars of sweet and tart cherries, which makes it difficult to generalize about differences between sweet and tart cherries. Nonetheless, it’s possible to compare the most commonly grown cultivar of sweet and tart cherries in the U.S., which are Bing and Montmorency cherries, respectively. In this case, tart cherries seem to have higher concentrations of total polyphenols than sweet cherries,[3] while sweet cherries contain more anthocyanins.[1]

Besides anthocyanins, cherries are rich in other polyphenols, including hydroxycinnamates and flavan-3-ols. Bing cherries seem to have a higher proportion of flavan-3-ols than Montmorency cherries, whereas Montmorency cherries seem to have a higher proportion of hydroxycinnamates than Bing cherries.[2]

Another difference between the two main types of cherries is that tart cherry products are almost exclusively used in exercise science research. This appears to be a consequence of cost and availability rather than differences in polyphenol concentrations or other factors that could influence health outcomes.[4] In fact, some types of sweet cherries compare favorably to tart cherries,[5] so it’s possible that their effects in the body aren’t all that different,[2] but further randomized controlled trials putting sweet and tart cherries head-to-head are needed to confirm this.

1.^Letitia M McCune, Chieri Kubota, Nicole R Stendell-Hollis, Cynthia A ThomsonCherries and health: a reviewCrit Rev Food Sci Nutr.(2011 Jan)
2.^Kelley DS, Adkins Y, Laugero KDA Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries.Nutrients.(2018-Mar-17)
3.^Ferretti G, Bacchetti T, Belleggia A, Neri DCherry antioxidants: from farm to table.Molecules.(2010-Oct-12)
5.^Vanisree Mulabagal, Gregory A Lang, David L DeWitt, Sanjeev S Dalavoy, Muraleedharan G NairAnthocyanin content, lipid peroxidation and cyclooxygenase enzyme inhibitory activities of sweet and sour cherriesJ Agric Food Chem.(2009 Feb 25)