Date Published: 5 October 2018
The cranberry harvest is underway
The arrival of the cranberry season has been met with enthusiasm in many parts of the United States. Uplifting seasonal pictures of farmers harvesting brightly coloured edible red berries have appeared in many local newspapers as well as online.
It has been estimated1 that the state of Wisconsin alone produced around 5.6 million barrels of the approx. 9.1 million barrels of cranberries produced in the USA during 2017. Cranberries are also grown commercially in large quantities in the U.S. states of Massachusetts, New Jersey (see pic below), Oregon and Washington as well as in parts of Canada and in lower volumes in Argentina, Chile and the Netherlands. This year's harvest is now well underway with the month of October a particularly busy time for cranberry producers across North America. Overall most of the high-volume cranberry production is wet-picked. This involves the cranberry beds being flooded with 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) of water above the vines then a harvester removing fruit from the vines. The cranberries then float in the water and can be corralled into a corner of the bed as shown below. A smaller proportion is still dry-picked. Although dry-picking is more labour intensive hence more expensive and it results in a lower yield, the advantage is that dry-picked cranberries tend to be less bruised and can be sold as fresh fruit.
Some of the health benefits often associated with cranberries include2:
- High density of nutrients - see the table below
- Naturally low in sugar (although high in acidity) compared with some other similar dried fruits
- Source of dietary fiber
- Rich in antioxidants
Due to the hard, sour, and bitter nature of fresh raw cranberries the vast majority are processed into cranberry juice and sauces, the juice generally being sweetened or blended with other fruit juices. Dried cranberries are also widely available in supermarkets and are a great ingredient for baking sweet breads. Even so, eating raw cranberries is probably most nutritious way to consume these healthful bright red berries3.
The data summarised in the table below is for raw cranberries. According to detailed information made available by the United States Department for Agriculture (USDA)4, one cup (110g) of chopped cranberries (scientific name: Vaccinium macrocarpon5), contains:
- 9 mg Calcium
- 0.062 mg Copper
- 0.25 mg Iron
- 7 mg Magnesium
- 0.294 g Manganese
- 12 mg Phosphorus
- 88 mg Potassium
- 2 mg Sodium
- 0.1 mg Zinc
Now that this year's cranberry harvest is well underway in North America it's time to consider what to do with the fresh seasonal supply. Popular options include making cranberry sauce (widely used at Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations) or cranberry jelly, using dried cranberries as a snack or part of a mix such as with breakfast cereals e.g. granolas, and in baking, smoothies and salads. There are many possibilities.
For cooking and baking inspiration see The Cranberry Cookbook: Year-Round Dishes From Bog to Table, Cranberry Cooking for All Seasons and Very Cranberry (Very Cookbooks) among others.