The Humble, Yet Crucial, Cranberry

cranberry-sauceAs we get ready for the holidays, cranberries take a special place of honor at our dinner table. For most people, this means buying canned cranberry sauce. Cranberries are actually a year round business, with over 800,000 tons of fruit grown each year. Although harvest is a short few weeks in the fall, only 5% of cranberries are sold as fresh. The rest is combined with other ingredients to become sauce, juice, or dried cranberries.

The humble cranberry is both sour AND bitter. If you’ve ever tasted a fresh cranberry, or tried to drink 100% pure cranberry juice, you know what we’re talking about. The chemicals responsible for this are called tannins, and they are also found in smaller amounts in other fruit, mostly unripened. They are also very beneficial to our health, hence the cranberry is ‘crucial’.

How, then, did such an unpalatable fruit become so popular?

Fruits are sweet in order to attract animals, who proceed to eat them and distribute seeds. But cranberries are not tasty enough for most wild animals. In fact, they are less than 4% sugar. So how did the cranberry promulgate itself?

The secret is in the cranberry’s anatomy. Due to an air pocket in its center, a cranberry can float in water. The  result is that cranberries grow in lowlands near water sources. Mature fruit fall off the vine, and are transported to another location to set up shop. There’s no need for help from the animal kingdom.

Native Americans found cranberries useful in meat preservation and as a medicine. They shared cranberries with the Pilgrims. The pilgrims started making sauces to accompany meats and thus a small agricultural pursuit began.

cranberryfarmFast forward to the late twentieth century. With oversupply and relatively limited demand for cranberry, smart marketers started looking for ways to sell cranberry year round. Harvesting techniques exacerbated the problem of fresh cranberries, as most growers switched to “wet picking” by mechanical means. Cranberry fields are flooded, causing the berries to float. Machines automatically harvest the berries, bruising them and rendering them unfit for sale as fresh.

Cranberry products such as cran-juices began infiltrating the market. When raisins became a hit, dried cranberries infused with sugar appeared on supermarket shelves as well. The only problem is that the amount of sugar added is very high. Cranberry drinks tend to have more sugar added than colas!

The health benefits of cranberries have also made it a mainstay of the nutrition circles. With very high antioxidant levels, and a potential to stave off bacteria in the urinary tract, it’s a no-brainer to recommend cranberry products as healthy choices.

And thus, from humble beginnings in northern bogs, cranberries have successfully morphed into an American icon.

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We add cranberries to our diet by taking Juice Plus+. That way we get ripe, nutritious cranberries every single day (along with the other 25 fruits, vegetables and berries that make up Juice Plus+.)

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving; I am thankful that you read this blog!