Cranberries are native to Atlantic Canada where they grow wild in wetlands and marsh areas. However, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island account for less than 10 percent of the Canadian production because the majority of today’s cranberries are harvested in BC and Quebec. They are the largest berry crop in BC and Canada.
How to Buy:
When buying fresh cranberries, look for berries that are shiny, plump and firm and avoid shriveled berries or ones with brown spotting. Inspect the bag for soft, mushy or mouldy berries, and make sure no liquid has collected in the bag.
Fresh cranberries are very tart and therefore rarely eaten raw. If you’re looking to benefit from this super fruit without the effort of preparing them yourself, check out the myriad mixtures of cranberry juice or pick up a bag of sweetened or unsweetened dried cranberries. And what holiday turkey dinner is complete without a can of cranberry sauce or jelly?
How to Store:
Fresh cranberries must be stored in the refrigerator to retain their freshness. Keep them in an airtight container or in their original packaging for up to three months and rinse before using. What other fruit do you know of will last that long? Refrigerate cooked berries in a covered container for up to one month.
Frozen cranberries can be kept in a sealed container in the deep freeze for up to three years. They can be placed directly in the freezer and will not stick together once frozen. Don’t rinse before freezing and try to use them from frozen when preparing them.
Store dried cranberries in an airtight container in a cool dark place for up to one year (or to the expiration date on the package). They can also be kept in the freezer for up to one year.
How to Prepare:
The cranberry’s tart flavour profile makes it a versatile ingredient in both sweet and savoury dishes. Sugar brings out its bright, fall flavours in a variety of baking dishes and with the right spices, it can punch up turkey, pork, lamb and beef dishes.
Cranberries are low in sugar, fat-free, cholesterol free and a good source of fiber. They also provide a multitude of vitamins and minerals. In fact, their high dose of vitamin C and long shelf life made them an ideal food for sailors to prevent scurvy on long voyages.
Cranberries are considered a functional food. According to Health Canada’s definition, “A functional food is similar in appearance to, or may be a conventional food, is consumed as part of a usual diet, and is demonstrated to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions.”
They contain polyphenol antioxidants and chemicals that may help defend against the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers and gum disease. They have long been a recognized treatment for urinary tract infections and have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce blood-cholesterol levels leading to better cardiovascular health.
According to The Cranberry Institute, an 8oz serving of 27% cranberry juice cocktail provides the same level of goodness as:
- 1/4 cup fresh cranberries
- 1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup cranberry sauce
- 2 oz. 100% cranberry juice
How They Are Grown:
Cranberries grow on low-lying vines and are planted in sandy soil layered with peat, gravel and clay. New plants are started in greenhouses and shipped to farmers when they start a new field. A field can take 5 years to reach its full production potential. Farmers use irrigation systems to keep the plants hydrated and the soil moist and rely heavily on pollinators like honey bees to pollinate each flower so it will turn into a berry. Come late September or early October, the cranberries have darkened into a rich red colour and can be harvested in one of two ways.
‘Wet harvested’ cranberries are planted in fields that can be flooded each fall for harvest using a series of ditches, flumes, ponds and other water bodies. These ‘cranberry bogs’ are key to the harvesting process because cranberries have a little air pocket inside the berry that causes them to float. Once the field is flooded, a specialized machine harvester ‘beats’ the berries off the vine and the floating mass can be collected by farmers and transported for processing.
The ‘wet harvested’ fruit is processed for cranberry products like juice and the Thanksgiving staple, cranberry sauce.
Fun Fact: This air pocket also causes them to bounce!
The ‘dry harvesting’ process involves a special mechanized picking machine that combs the berries from the vine to be loaded into bins. These are then cleaned and packaged as fresh fruit.
Fun Fact: Over the last 10 years, demand for Canadian cranberries has grown 400%.
Available: September – January.