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What are Rainier Cherries?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Rainier cherries are especially large, sweet cherries developed by researchers at Washington State University. These cherries are highly prized in the Pacific Northwest for their superb flavor, and several nations, including Japan, also import large amounts of them when they are in season. As a general rule, these cherries are more costly than other cherry varieties, but some consumers feel that the added price is worth the superb flavor.

These cherries were bred in 1952 by crossing the well-known Bing variety with the Van cultivar. The result was an unusually large golden to orange cherry with sweet yellow flesh. The pomologists who developed the Rainier cherry named it after Mount Rainier, a landmark in Washington State, and a number of cherry orchards began producing the crop commercially.

Several things distinguish Rainier cherries from other cherry varieties. The first is the unusual and distinctive color discussed above. Rainiers also have a tender texture which is almost creamy, and their sweetness is much higher than that of ordinary cherries. Many producers wait until their cherries are at the peak of sweetness before picking, so that they can negotiate the best price for them. This can expose farmers to loss, because birds are big fans of the sweet fruit, and they can consume up to a third of a crop.

The window of opportunity for obtaining Rainiers is small; they come into season in late June, and vanish by mid-July. These cherries are very flavorful, so they are usually eaten fresh out of hand or included in simple fruit salads. As a general rule, they are too sweet for piemaking, although they can be used in jams and preserves.

When selecting Rainier cherries in the store, look for large specimens which feel reasonably firm. Scars and discolored spots are a sign that the cherry is especially sweet, just the like the sugar scars on watermelons, but avoid cherries which feel mushy, or cherries which appear to be decaying. Rainiers can be kept refrigerated for several days before use, and it is a good idea to wash them well before consumption.

Rainier cherries grow in USDA zones five to eight, for gardeners who want to try their hand at growing their own. It is important to space the trees well so that they get plenty of sunlight, and it is critical to prune them each year to ensure maximum sun exposure for individual branches, ensuring that the cherries will fully develop. These cherry trees can also be finicky to grow, so they may require some patience.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon959172 — On Jul 02, 2014

I love these cherries. They are so tasty and delicious.

By anon941879 — On Mar 24, 2014

I am diabetic and rainier cherries are one of my favorite treats! Most people might treat themselves to fancy chocolates or sweets, I treat myself to fruit. The occasional mango or pomegranate (still dying to try passion fruit but alas I live in Iowa), but I look forward to cherry season every year.

By anon346745 — On Aug 31, 2013

I was raised with Rainier cherries. Mother would make a net, each year expanding it, and we would go out and throw it over the tree so the birds would not get the cherries. When they were ready to eat, we would go out and pick them. We would save some for daily eating, but most of the time, most of them were collected so we could can them. After cooking, they turn white, but boy are they super good during winter months after they have been canned.

For the person that was asking about diabetes, yes they are all right to eat, anywhere from 7 to 15 at a time. You can count that as 15 carbs.

By literally45 — On Jan 20, 2013

@ankara-- I don't know about the calorie content but I do know that cherries in general are suitable for diabetics because they have a low glycemic index. The glycemic index of Rainier cherries might be a bit higher because it is sweeter. But still, I think it's fine in moderation for diabetics. It's always a good idea to check blood sugar levels after eating a new food though.

Rainier cherries are also rich in antioxidants. I personally love them. They're my favorite because I've never come across a tart Rainier cherry in a batch. I've even frozen them so that I can enjoy them after the season is over and they still tasted great thawed.

By bluedolphin — On Jan 19, 2013

How many calories are in Rainier cherries? Is it more or less the same as other cherries?

Is this a good fruit for diabetics?

By burcinc — On Jan 18, 2013

I've never tried Rainier cherries. They don't look that great but reading all these amazing reviews here, I'm intrigued.

At the same time though, I probably shouldn't bother with that price. Plus, I prefer making cherry pie or cherry jam rather than eating fresh fruit and I know I can't afford to do that with these cherries.

By anon280269 — On Jul 16, 2012

I love, love, love these cherries. It is so hard to eat any other type of cherry. They may be a little bit more in price, but I get those as treat for myself. They're better than sweets.

By anon273987 — On Jun 09, 2012

I remember eating my fill of these cherries when I was kid. They were growing on the farm my grandfather worked at so we would pick some to take home but they never made it.

By anon265165 — On May 01, 2012

Someone said here on this blog, if you don't want to buy these then do not ever try them. If you do, you are hooked. I do not care what the price is now. They are the best fruit ever and the season is way too short. I buy as many as I can in two weeks. A year is a long time to wait. The Washington variety is the best.

By anon257804 — On Mar 28, 2012

I'm a Rainier Cherry snob, though. I won't eat the California variety, because they don't taste right. They're very bland, compared to the "true" Rainier Cherries from Washington.

By anon203095 — On Aug 04, 2011

These cherries are expensive but well worth treating yourself to. I have never come across one bad one in the bag I buy. They are only in the grocery stores by me for about two weeks and then I have to wait another year. Just bought some yesterday and really enjoying them! These are the best cherries you will ever taste.

By anon194612 — On Jul 08, 2011

My name is Shilo. I love these cherries. They are such a treat at this time of the year. Enjoy!

By anon182641 — On Jun 02, 2011

Best dang cherries I have ever had! Rainier cherries. Yum!

By anon157619 — On Mar 03, 2011

Several years ago I purchased some small trees from a gardening catalog. At that time I received a bonus tree with that purchase. Turns out today I just found out it is a Ranier Cherry tree and it has been producing for years and I did not even know what I had. The birds have surely enjoyed them but now I will be enjoying them also.

By surreallife — On Sep 02, 2010

I wonder if they also come in dried cherries variety.

By motherteresa — On Sep 02, 2010

I will have to try them when they are in season. I love cherries, bing cherries being the best but I have not tried ranier cherries yet.

By anon104876 — On Aug 18, 2010

I truly prefer these to the bing variety. They are incredibly sweet and taste best when they are really chilled from the refrigerator.

But, that price has to go. It's way too high for my budget, but I have bought these so often. For 2010, I saw these last weekend, and there was not a question in my mind that I would be purchasing. If you want to stay away, never try these. You guys know I am kidding. Just the most delicious cherries!

By anon100106 — On Jul 28, 2010

Rainier cherries are the absolute best fruit ever. It is a shame that the season is so short. I too, wait for their arrival at our local grocery stores.

By anon100092 — On Jul 28, 2010

I have been buying bing cherries for a long time and have not wanted to try the rainer cherries because I associated the yellow color with sour and not sweet. I was in the store and over heard a customer talking to someone else about how sweet they are. and they are awesome.

By anon97204 — On Jul 19, 2010

I heard about Rainier cherries earlier this year (2010) from a friend in Nevada. I just purchased some tonight at my local Basha's supermarket. The price of $5.99 is a bit high, but the flavor is superb. I look forward to next year's crop!

--Arizona Rainier cherry fan

By anon94326 — On Jul 08, 2010

i just love rainier cherries. They are my favorite in the world, and i look for them in the grocery store and at costco every year. i am too happy tonight. they are now in my possession, with half a bag consumed already.

By anon40550 — On Aug 09, 2009

Is it necessary to have more than one Rainier cherry tree to cross pollinate?

By dobrinj — On Aug 04, 2009

I really like Rainier Cherries, and when they are ripe, they are sublime. My understanding is that they are a very fragile variety which increases their cost drastically.

Rainiers are usually significantly more expensive than bing cherries.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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