This Autumn, Fall for Cranberries
This time of year, it can be easy to get off track. It’s back to school season (or should we say back to busy!) and to top it off it’s the best time of year to bake. There is a lot going on that could throw you off balance but we’re here for you and want you to know that you can enjoy the fall season without falling off the wagon! One of the tasty treats that are in season this time of year is Cranberries! Cranberries are a wonderful, natural way to add some fall sweetness to various dishes while staying on the path to a healthy lifestyle.
Why Cranberries are Awesome:
Like blueberries and strawberries, cranberries are loaded with vitamin C and health-producing phytonutrients. But unlike blueberries and strawberries, which have their peak season in the summer, cranberries are in season during fall to early winter. Their peak season, when cranberries are cheap and plentiful and have the best flavor and most nutritional value, starts in September and runs through December. Calorie content can vary greatly, depending on how much sugar is added. So try to be careful about the amount of cranberry sauce you pile on as part of an already high-calorie Thanksgiving dinner but other products of cranberries such as craisins can be a delightful way to switch up some of your favorite recipes without adding too many calories.
You certainly don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas to enjoy and reap the great nutritional benefits of this underrated fruit this season! The vitamin C and other antioxidants in cranberries can go a long way towards boosting the immune system and reducing the risk for annoying inflammations and infections such as UTIs, along with heart disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses. In fact, cranberries are rated one of the highest of all fruits on the ORAC chart, a widely used measure of different foods’ antioxidant value. For example, the anthocyanins in cranberries not only account for their rich red color but also provide powerful antioxidant protection. Cranberries also contain carotenoids (vital for normal eyesight and good eye health) and many plant phenols like lignans and ellagic acid and the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, all of which are believed to fight cancer.
Cranberries are one of only three fruits that are native to North America (the other two being blueberries and Concord grapes). Yet only 5% of the cranberry products currently being sold in the U.S. are fresh cranberries. That’s a shame because the other more popular way of eating cranberries, like in juices, sauces or dried, are higher in calories and not as nutritious as cranberries in their delightful, natural form. For example, compared to the 46 calories in a cup of fresh cranberries, a cup of store-bought cranberry sauce can contain over 400 calories! Yikes… But don’t worry. The Nutrition Factors recipe database includes recipes for making your own cranberry sauce or relish that are better than those you’ll find in the store.
Other essential nutrients found in fresh cranberries are vitamin K and the B complex vitamins, and the minerals manganese and potassium. Fresh cranberries also provide dietary fiber, which cranberry juice does not. The potassium and fiber content of cranberries, plus the fact that they contain very little sodium, hardly any fat, and no cholesterol, also makes this fruit very heart healthy.
Unfortunately, cranberries are too tart for most people’s tastes without the addition of sugar, and this is why fresh cranberries are nowhere near as popular as the cranberry products with sugar already added. When eating fresh cranberries, limit the amount of sugar you add to the smallest amount that will make the fruit palatable or pair with other foods so the bitter taste will be less pronounced. When buying cranberry products in other forms, read the labels and choose products with reduced sugar content whenever possible. Diabetics need to be especially careful.
Selecting and Storing Cranberries
When buying fresh cranberries, do a “bounce test” when you get home. They should bounce when you drop them. Discard any berries that are soft, discolored, pitted, or shriveled. This is one way to get away with playing with your food!
The storage life for cranberries is longer than for many other fresh fruits. In fact, already ripe fresh cranberries will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator. Or, for longer storage, you can freeze or dry them. But wait until you are actually ready to eat them to wash them to keep them from spoiling. To learn more about Cranberry Selection, Storage and handling check out our Nutrition Factors Library.
The best way to eat cranberries, as well as a great way to add color and texture contrast to many dishes, is to combine them with other foods. Cranberries can be added to oatmeal, salads, or trail mix, or used as a flavoring for sauces, relishes, smoothies, and other beverages, or in recipes for baked goods and desserts. We’ve included two recipes made with some of the best Fall Flavors so you can enjoy cranberries tonight!
A traditional Waldorf Salad with a cranberry twist is a fun way to mix up a classic recipe! This cranberry salad can be served either as a side dish with your meal or afterward for fresh dessert. Adding cranberries to some of your sweet and savory recipes is an easy way to make your dishes into a fall staple meal. This particular recipe is a wonderful example of making something old, new and exciting with just adding cranberries! It also includes apples which are in season this time of year as well!
This fruity, cranberry-nut bread with walnuts, fresh cranberries, and citrus flair is a great treat to kick off fall baking season! The cranberry and orange flavors in this delightful recipe create a warm, toasty aroma that makes this time of year feel and taste cozy.
Rudrappa, U. (2009-17). “Fruit Nutrition Facts.” Retrieved from http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/fruit-nutrition.html