Teeming with Health

Cranberries can be described as a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines, going up to 2 metres in length. Their height ranges between 5 to 20 centimetres. They belong to the subgenus Oxycoccus of the genus Vaccinium. These shrubs have slender stems and evergreen leaves, and they do bear edible and delicious fruits. The fruits of the shrub or vine are also known as cranberry.

The fruit is initially light green in colour and it becomes red when ripe. The cranberry fruit is a berry. The cranberries are characterised by their acidic taste, which becomes apparent despite their sweetness.

The US is the largest producer of cranberries in the world, followed by Canada, Chile, Belarus and Azerbaijan respectively. During 2017, according to FAOSTAT, 97 percent of the global production of cranberries was accounted by the US, Canada and Chile only. Among the US states, Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries, accounting 65 percent of the country’s annual cranberry production. Quebec in Canada is another major producer of cranberry in the continent of North America.

Cranberries are also used as a major commercial crop in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington in the US and in some Canadian provinces such as British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland.

The cranberries are native to North America. In North America, native Americans were the first to discover the edible use of cranberries. They mixed mashed cranberries with deer meat to make a dish called pemmicana. They also used the cranberry for medical purposes. They used cranberry in poultices to bring out the poison from arrow wounds.

But despite its several applications, strangely, until the 19th century, cranberries weren’t farmed on a large scale. According to a website, in 1816, the first recorded yield of cranberries was harvested in Massachusetts, the US. Presently in North America, more than 100 varieties of cranberries grow. By 1820s cranberries were being shipped to Europe.

The Cranberry Marketing Committee (CMC) USA is focused on promoting the use and consumption of cranberries worldwide.

Cultivation Factors

A special combination of factors is needed for the growth of cranberries. Acid peat soil and adequate supply of fresh water are needed for the cultivation of cranberries, along with a growing season that ranges from April to November. Generally, cranberries are harvested from mid-September through mid-November. They grow on bogs or marshes. These bogs or marshes are also known as beds. Cranberries grow in low-lying vines in bogs or marshes layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. For harvesting cranberries, the beds or bogs or marshes need to be flooded with six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) of water above the vines.

In the initial days of cultivation of cranberry, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. But these days, cranberry beds are developed in upland areas having a shallow water table.

Culinary Applications

Cranberry is subjected to various culinary applications. Cranberries can be had raw or as dried and sweetened. Cranberry juice is a very popular usage of this delicious fruit. For reducing its innate tartness, cranberry juice is often sweetened or blended with other fruit juices. Cranberries are also processed as cranberry jam.

Cranberry sauce or cranberry jelly is also delicious. At Christmas dinner in the UK, cranberry sauce is traditionally accompanied with turkey. In Europe, the cranberry sauce or jelly is typically slightly sour-tasting, whereas in North America it is sweeter. Cranberries are also used in health bars. Cranberries have applications in many cocktails, which include Cosmopolitan, and also in mocktails.

Cranberry is also used in muffins, scones, cakes and breads. Cranberry muffins can be an uncommon and delightful addition to a bakery’s repertoire in  India’s bakery and confectionery industry as could be cranberry scones, cranberry cakes and cranberry breads. In fact, cranberries are extensively used in desserts. Cranberries can also play their role in adding value to cookies and salads.

Health Benefits of Cranberries

Cranberries, due to their high nutrient and antioxidant content, are often referred to as superfood. They are spruced with several health benefits. Half a cup of cranberries contains only 25 calories. There is evidence which indicates that the polyphenols contained in cranberries may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. “Cranberries are good for the heart. They are rich in the types of polyphenols associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Moreover, cranberries are low in sodium and a good source of dietary fiber,” noted Cranberry Marketing Committee from the US. Cranberries contain negligible amount of fat.

Cranberries are rich in nutrients like Vitamin C, fibre and Vitamin E. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which blocks some of the damage caused by free radicals. It also facilitates in boosting immunity and building up resistance against infectious diseases. In old times sailors used to carry cranberries to prevent scurvy.

 “Intake of high fibers in high amounts significantly reduces the risk of coronary heart diseases, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and some intestinal diseases. It also helps to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for obese individuals,” informed Cranberry Marketing Committee.

Vitamin E due to its antioxidant nature helps in preventing or delaying chronic diseases related to free radicals.

The cranberries are spruced with a wide array of phytonutrients, which are naturally derived plant compounds. They can prevent a number of health problems.

Cranberries contain flavonoids and other natural compounds that promote good health. Cranberry juice contains a high amount of salicylic acid which can help reduce swelling, prevent blood clots. The cranberry juice also has calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, potassium, and sodium. “Cranberries are rich in antioxidants with an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score of 9,584 units per 100 gm,” informed Cranberry Marketing Committee.

This wonder fruit can prevent stomach disorders and diabetes also. Cranberries can also help in preventing development of cavities in teeth.

It is about time our food service industry makes more proactive usage of cranberries with its myriad health benefits in its menu, than it is doing now. The increasing numbers of health conscious consumers in India wouldn’t mind greater infusion of this delicious fruit in their dishes, wherever it is feasible. Especially, greater usage of cranberries can bring in more market potential for a great many bakeries in the country.                                            

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