Cranberries 101: A True American Tradition

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First used by Native Americans for food, medicine, and dyes, cranberries are one of only a few fruits native to North America. So it seems fitting that they have found a home as a staple of our holiday celebrations. Most popular as a sauce paired with Thanksgiving turkey, cranberries also work well in a variety of dishes, both sweet and savory. And with their antibacterial properties, they’re a holiday treat your body will celebrate! But don’t wait too long to pick them up; their relatively short season will be over before you know it.

 

Identification

This small, slightly oblong bright red fruit is most often found loose in plastic bags or packed into pint containers in the holiday produce aisle in the fall.

Taste

Cranberries are quite tart, so they are rarely eaten raw. When they are enjoyed raw, it is typically in combination with sweeter fruits like pineapple or dried apricots.

Instead, cranberries are usually dried, baked, or cooked with a sweetener to draw out their subtle sweetness and temper their tartness. Some salad and dressing recipes will substitute cranberries for lemon or vinegar.

Availability

Cranberries are readily available in major supermarkets during peak season. Frozen cranberries, canned cranberry sauce, and dried cranberries (found by the raisins and other dried fruit) are available year round.

Season

Cranberries have a short season in the US, usually from October through December. The season is longer in Europe, usually between July and December.

Selection

The best cranberries are plump, firm, and shiny red. So firm, in fact, that they typically bounce if dropped on the floor! They are most commonly found loose in 12-ounce bags or packed in pint containers.

Avoid cranberries that are soft, discolored, or shriveled, as this indicates they are overripe or rotting.

Organic Benefits

When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.

Cranberries don’t appear on either list. However, strawberries and cherries are both on the Dirty Dozen list, and other berries (like raspberries and blueberries) are affected as well. It stands to reason that berries in general are particularly affected by pesticides, so opt for organic or locally sourced cranberries when possible.

However, the Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.

Storage

Keep ripe cranberries in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to three weeks. Keep in mind, if one cranberry goes bad, it will quickly spread to the others. So before storing them, take a minute to sort through the package and eliminate any questionable berries.

Alternately, cranberries can be frozen for several years. Rinse and dry cranberries, spread them out on a baking sheet, and place in freezer until completely frozen. Then store in a zipped plastic bag. Once thawed, use immediately.

Preparation

Wash cranberries directly before use by placing them in a strainer, rinsing them under cool running water, and then patting them dry. Once dry, chop cranberries as needed (either in half or into small pieces). Alternately, you can opt to leave the cranberries whole, depending on the recipe.

Nutrition Summary

Vitamin C

This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk.

Manganese

The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.

Vitamin E (Tocopherol)

Vitamin E is present in everyday neurological functions and may play a role in protecting the brain from cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E is essential for scavenging free radicals, supplying them with their much-needed electron pair. Eyesight, skin, and the immune system are all positively benefited through vitamin E intake.

Potassium

Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Cranberry juice has often been touted as a preventative measure against urinary tract infections (UTIs). The vast majority of UTIs are caused by a bacterial infection (typically E. coli) in the bladder or urethra. Preliminary research indicates the phytonutrients in cranberries can prevent these bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract. More research is necessary to conclude that this is an effective preventative measure, but medical professionals generally agree that adding cranberry juice to your diet is not harmful, so it’s worth a shot! However, many cranberry juices are high in sugar, so caloric intake should be considered. Read labels and opt for cranberry juices with minimal added sugars and sweeteners—these will naturally be less caloric. Look for 100 percent cranberry juice, rather than those labelled “juice cocktail.”

However, because cranberries are highly acidic, they can wear away tooth enamel, especially when consumed raw. When possible, be sure to brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste about 30 minutes before consuming cranberries to best protect teeth. And, as with everything is life, enjoy raw cranberries in moderation.

Little Known Facts
  1. Despite what some commercials show, cranberry bushes don’t grow in water. The marshes are flooded prior to harvest to make collection easier, because cranberries float.
  2. Cranberries are known by many names: “crane berries,” as the blossoms are thought to resemble the heads of Sandhill cranes; “bearberries,” in honor of the bears who also love this fruit; and “bounceberries,” because ripe cranberries bounce.
  3. Nearly one-fourth of the cranberries consumed in the US each year are enjoyed during the week of Thanksgiving.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.