Does Apricot Origin Matter?

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2014

Can California and Mediterranean dried apricots be used interchangeably?

California and Mediterranean dried apricots begin with two different varieties of fruit that are also processed differently—factors that help give each type a distinctive taste, texture, and appearance. Deep orange in color, California apricots are halved before drying, resulting in flesh that’s thin and shriveled. Yellowish-orange Mediterranean (also known as Turkish) apricots are dried whole and then pitted. Their flesh is thicker and plumper than that of the California variety—not surprising since fruit dried whole will retain more moisture than halved fruit. Both types are sold sulfured (which preserves color and prevents the growth of mold) and unsulfured.

We compared both kinds in sulfured form from the same brand (Sun-Maid). When eaten on their own, the Mediterranean apricots were described as juicy, plump, and more sweet than tart, while the California apricots were deemed slightly chewy but praised for their lively, ultraconcentrated flavor.

When used in a chutney, the drier California fruit absorbed the recipe’s liquid early on. We had to add more water to cook the sauce properly, but the apricots made a bright, complex chutney. The same recipe made with Mediterranean apricots yielded a chutney that was juicier and sweeter and that had the expected consistency without any modifications.

We also tasted unsulfured versions of both kinds of apricots and found them to be sweeter and less “apricot-y” across the board. Tasters felt that the variety of the apricot had a much bigger influence on the flavor of the dried fruit than did sulfuring.

THE BOTTOM LINE: To avoid having to tweak recipes on the fly, we recommend using Mediterranean apricots in cooking and baking (unless a recipe specifies the California variety). They’re less expensive and more widely available, and most recipes calling for dried apricots are designed to work with their plump, juicy sweetness. But for eating out of hand, we’ll be reaching for the tart, chewy California variety.