Kathrine

Kathrine

Editorial Assistant

The best way to shop? With the seasons. So, every 2 weeks at Kitchen Stories, we'll be highlighting a different in-season ingredient along with 3 new recipes. To market, we go!

Cranberries might be most commonly known as turkey’s most faithful companion during the holidays season or as an Irish rock band from the 90s. Once the season has passed, most of us reduce this wonder berry’s potential to a dried, bagged shadow of itself tucked away in our cupboard (that’s not to say we don’t love you, dried cranberries, but let’s give your fresh selves some air time). But rest assured, it’s not too late to turn the tables. We’ll guide you through how to buy, store, and use fresh cranberry and shine some light on the mysteries surrounding its origin, cultivation, and healing properties.

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1. Hallo, my name is cranberry

As one of only three fruits native to North America, almost the entire global production of cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is grown and produced in the northern states of the U.S. and central and Northern provinces of Canada. Many are led to believe that cranberries grow in water, this misconception may very well stem from the wet harvest process where the beds (also known as bogs or marshes) are flooded with water the night before harvest to allow the berries to detach from the stem and float. Neat!

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North American cranberries are often mistaken for some of their European cousins within the heath family, also known as European cranberries. Most common amongst these are the high bush cranberries (viburnum opulus) or mossberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) which both grow wild in the northern hemisphere, a case of mistaken identity might be a sour experience, as European cranberries tend to have a much higher acidic profile.

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2. How to buy perfect cranberries

Cranberry harvest runs from mid-September till mid-November and the luscious red berries can be found decorating the supermarket isles from the beginning of October throughout December. When stocking up on fresh cranberries—and we do suggest that you do as only a small fragment of the harvest is sold fresh—look for firm, plump berries that bounce when dropped, and make sure to inspect for any shriveled or mushy ones—and discard them—as these might spoil the bunch.

The darker the berry, the higher nutritional benefits, as antioxidant proanthocyanidin compounds are linked to pigmentation. Though riper and darker berries are juicier, contrary to most other berries, the sugar content and sweetness are unaffected. Stored in the fridge, cranberries can keep fresh for up to three weeks and up to a year when frozen.

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3. All the ways to enjoy cranberries

Cranberry season collides with Thanksgiving, and serving as the main ingredient in the indispensable sauce, it may seem like the fresh berries' lone purpose. Once the holiday frenzy subsides, most of us fall back on the convenience of all-year-round available dried, canned, or jarred berries. Dried cranberries are great for adding sweetness to baked goods and salads and tartness to cut through heavier, fatty dishes. However, in dried or preserved form cranberries lose the vast majority of their health benefits, and the natural sugar content is increased, moreover, additional sugar is often added to further sweeten the berries.

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Cranberry juice, advertised as a superfood for its healing properties, is often pumped with additional added sugar and additives to camouflage the sourness of the fresh berry—little of the nutritional value remains and the calories drastically increase. But in fact, it's very straightforward to make your own cranberry juice from fresh (or freshly frozen) berries, which puts you in charge of how much sugar and additives are added: Add an equal ration of water to cranberries in a pot, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer for 25 min., then strain through a fine sieve and add sugar to sweeten, according to desire. Utilize your homemade cranberry juice in various of drinks, take the classic cosmopolitan to a whole new level, or enjoy the warming comfort of a spiced cranberry cider during the cold winter months.

As fresh cranberries freeze well, they can be just as accessible as dried or canned berries, as long as you make sure to stock up during the season. Since they are higher in acidity, they are perfect for stuffing, or for adding tanginess to hearty stews or roasts.

4. The health benefits of cranberries

You're probably familiar with cranberry juice's most famous application: that gulping generous amounts can flush out the system and prevent bladder infections. There is some truth to the claim, as research suggests the active ingredient in cranberries, proanthocyanidins—also known as PAC, can prevent E. coli bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract, which is the leading cause of infection. Yet, the concentration of PAC in this century-old home remedy has been proven far too low to have any healing or preventive effect.

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Nevertheless, there are still plenty of reasons to hail the healing potential of the cranberry as an antioxidant powerhouse, especially for its potential anti-inflammatory properties, the high level of vitamin A, K and especially C, not to mention the low-calorie content. Surely that’s enough to make a convincing case for the cranberry beyond a mere Thanksgiving essential?

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5. What to make next

All week long, we'll be featuring new cranberry recipes on Kitchen Stories. Check back to see what's new, then try one for yourself! Here's where to start:

Cranberry, gin, and dill gravlax

Cranberry, gin, and dill gravlax

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Crispy rolled pork belly with cranberries and herbs

Crispy rolled pork belly with cranberries and herbs

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Baked cranberry and cinnamon doughnuts

Baked cranberry and cinnamon doughnuts

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What's your favorite way to enjoy cranberries? Let us know in the comments below or share your best cranberry recipe with us at community@kitchenstories.com.

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