There's another good reason to eat those flavorful, firm sweet cherries grown across the Mid-Columbia.
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that Bing sweet cherries may help prevent and lessen some chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, blood pressure and cancer.
"Cherries are just a head-to-toe anti-inflammatory," said James Michael, vice president of marketing for Northwest Cherry Growers & Washington State Fruit Commission.
Bing cherries are the mainstay of Washington's sweet cherry crop.
It's possible other sweet cherries besides Bings could have the same effect, said Darshan Kelley, a USDA research chemist and an adjunct professor at University of California, Davis, who spearheaded the study.
Similar effects also have been reported with tart cherries, he said.
Stories have been around for generations about how cherries act as an anti-inflammatory, helping people with gout or arthritis, Michael said.
Patrick Sullivan, a cherry farmer and a Washington State Fruit Commission board member, said there's finally enough research to show some of the health attributes of eating sweet cherries.
"It is a good, healthy food," said Sullivan, of KP Sullivan Farms north of Pasco.
Ed Kenoyer, a third-generation cherry grower near Cashmere, said in a statement, "My grandmother always thought her arthritis was better in the summer when our cherries were in season. We'd pick a few each morning for the bowl in the kitchen. I guess it turns out she was right."
The recent study, paid for by Northwest Cherry Growers, further analyzed samples from a 2006 study where 18 healthy adults ate 45 California-grown Bing cherries each day for 28 days, Michael said.
New technology has become available since researchers completed the first study, he said.
The study found Bing cherry consumption decreased the level of some inflammatory markers and increased the level of an anti-inflammatory marker in the blood of the adults who participated in the study.
Some of the beneficial health effects from consuming cherries seem to extend beyond the time that people included in the study stopped eating cherries, Kelley said. But the study did not determine the effects beyond 28 days from when people stopped eating the cherries.
The natural compound in cherries that gives them their color -- called anthocyanin -- may be a key contributor to cherries' anti-inflammatory effect, Michael said. But other compounds in the cherries could also be contributors.
"This was a first step," Michael said.
Michael said he's excited what researchers may discover in the future about how cherries affect human health.
Cherries from last year's harvest were also made into a cherry powder for future health studies. That means research can be done outside of the 10-week period where cherries are being harvested, he said.
Consumers are paying more attention to what they eat, and are looking for natural dietary remedies for health issues, Michael said. He hopes the results of the recent study will encourage more people to give cherries a try.
Cherries are like an adult version of candy -- something naturally sweet adults can eat without feeling guilty, Michael said.
"Cherries are a sweet indulgence," he said. "And they are only around for a short period of time."