Wednesday, 17 November 2010 | Tags: ,

Packed with nutrients and anti-oxidents, cranberries have hit super-fruit status. They're not just for turkey and holiday meals, however. They can be enjoyed fresh, frozen, dried, jellied and juiced, among other things. Here's what we learned about cranberries for an episode of Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag.

The Basics

    • One of only a handful of major fruits indigenous to North America, cranberries were a traditional staple of the Native American diet, medicine cabinet (in poultices), and clothing manufacture process (as fabric dye).

    • Today, North Americans consume over 400 million pounds of cranberries each year, 20% of that during the weeks of Thanksgiving.

    • Contrary to popular belief, cranberries are not grown in water. A perennial plant, most commercially-harvested cranberries grow on low-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes that are manually flooded during harvest, called wet-harvesting.

      • Cranberries have small pockets of air inside which makes them float. The fields are flooded with up to 18 inches of water, then loosened with machines so they float to the surface.

      • Berries are then corralled in large booms and loaded into large trucks.

      • Wet-harvested berries are used to make juices, sauces, and other similar products.

  • Fresh berries are typically dry-harvested, which entails “combing” the vines using a mechanized picking machine resembling a large lawnmower. No water is used. Fruit is loaded into bins, cleaned, and packaged as fresh fruit.

  • Cranberries are harvested in North America between September and December each year.

  • 95% of cranberries harvested go towards making juice, sauces, and other processed cranberries. Only 5% are packed to be sold fresh.
  • White cranberries are unripe, and are still harvested as a milder, sweeter alternative to the more tart, full-bodied ripe red berry.

  • Fresh cranberries retain the most antioxidants, dried berries, a little less, and bottled cranberry drinks and cocktails with added sugars or low calorie sweeteners contain the least.

  • Choose fresh, plump cranberries, deep red in colour, and quite firm to the touch.

    • The deeper red the colour, the more highly concentrated are cranberries’ beneficial anthocyanin compounds.

    • For the most antioxidants, choose fully ripened cranberries – research suggests that as fruits fully ripen, almost to the point of spoilage, their antioxidant levels increase significantly.

    • Fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for several months but should be treated with care.

    • Before storing, discard any soft, discolored, pitted, or shriveled fruits.

    • When removed from the refrigerator, cranberries may look damp. Such moistness does not indicate spoilage unless the berries are discolored or feel sticky, leathery, or tough.

    • Just prior to use, place cranberries in a strainer and briefly and gently rinse under cool running water.

  • Frozen cranberries may be kept for several years.

    • To freeze, spread fresh cranberries out on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. In a couple of hours, the fully frozen berries will be ready to transfer to a freezer bag. Don’t forget to date the bag before returning to the freezer.

    • Once thawed, frozen berries will be quite soft and should be used immediately.

  • Dried cranberries are sold in many groceries and may be found with other dried fruits.

    • Look for berries that are plump, moist, and a bright, ruby-red color. Never buy dried fruit that is dried out (hard) or moldy.

    • Dried cranberries typically come as sweetened or unsweetened, with sugar added (or not) to reduce tartness.

    • Dried cranberries also come in sulfured and unsulfered varieties. Sulfur dioxide is used by some producers to lock in colour and moisture. Some say this affects the taste. Also, some people are allergic to sulfides, so be sure to read the labels.

    • Store dried cranberries in an airtight container at room temperature.

Health Benefits

  • Cranberries have long been valued for their ability to help prevent and treat urinary tract infections.

  • Recent studies suggest that cranberries may also promote gastrointestinal and oral health, prevent the formation of kidney stones, lower LDL and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, aid in stroke recovery, and even help prevent cancer.

  • Fresh cranberries contain the highest levels of beneficial nutrients, and are at their peak from October through December.

  • When this short season is past, rely on cranberry juice and dried or frozen cranberries for everyday health.

  • Half a cup of fresh cranberries contains 23 calories and is an excellent source of Vitamin C and dietary fibre.


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