Shalakh Apricot: Protecting a Species’ Diversity, and a Local Culture

By Jenna Banning

In Armenia, farmers have been growing apricots for over 3000 years, making use of all parts of the tree: the wood can be used to make furniture, and the seeds can be turned into oil or the basis for a liqueur.  The fruit itself is eaten ripe, or used in a number of traditional recipes, such as preserves and jams, also known as maraba.

The shalakh apricot is the national symbol of Armenia, and plays a central role in local culture. (Photo credit: Terra Madre)

Armenian apricots come in a number of different varieties, some local to specific regions of the country. The shalakh apricot, from the Araret Valley, is one of the most important varieties, and is known as the symbol of Armenia. Named after its distinctive pineapple aroma – shalakh means pineapple in Armenian – the fruit is celebrated for its balance of sugar and tartness, and has a juicy and creamy texture. The shalakh is well-adapted to the country’s arid climate, and has regularly high yields.

But the apricots labeled “from Armenia” in grocery stores today are usually not the authentic shalakh apricots. In Armenia, production of the shalakh apricot is limited to mostly domestic consumption, with each family in the Araret Valley owning a few trees for personal use. Instead, the international market is being flooded with a rise in hybrid apricots being marketed under the shalakh name, and the true shalakh variety is under threat of disappearing.

Slow Food International’s The Ark of Taste recently named the shalakh apricot to its list of small-scale food products. This project, created by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, works to preserve small-scale food products that are closely linked with local economies and cultures, but face the risk of extinction due to agricultural industrialization, homogenization, and environmental problems.  By naming the shalakh apricot as the 1000th product on Ark of Taste list, Slow Food hopes to protect the fruit’s role in the local traditions.

The rise in the number of hybrid apricots also increases the importance of protecting the genetic strength of the species. Apricots from the Armenian/Eastern Caucasus region have proven to be more resistant to drought and certain pests and diseases, which typically plague apricot plants. By preserving the authentic shalakh variety, the plant’s genetic biodiversity is strengthened.

As food markets become increasingly more profit-driven, local varieties, such as the shalakh apricot, are at the risk of extinction. Thankfully, international groups and local producers and consumers are recognizing the value of such plants, and acting to protect them. By continuing to grow this local apricot variety, Armenian farmers are not only preserving their local culture, but also protecting the environment.

Do you know of another local variety of a fruit or a vegetable that is facing disappearance?

Jenna Banning is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about indigenous crops, see: Five Vegetables You’ve Never Heard of That are Helping to End Hunger, African rock fig: A fruit with historical significance and potential for the future, and Every Thorn has its Rose: Kei Apple is both food and fence

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