Ah the sweet, powerful cranberry. Well, perhaps “sweet” doesn’t quite describe it properly. It may be more accurate to call them acid berries as their taste is incredibly overwhelming. Though as a result, they’re one of the healthiest berries available as they’re high in antioxidants, promote good health, and overall taste great once you acquire the flavor. So let’s spend today looking at cranberries and how you can add some more to your diet!
Cranberry Culture and History
A lot of people seem to know about cranberries, thanks in part to Oceanspray and their commercials featuring workers in a cranberry bog, but the truth of the matter is the bog method of cranberry growth is vital, and rather strange to behold. Cranberries need acidic bogs and cooler temperatures, making them a staple of the commercial crop industries in some US states and Canadian providences.
The history of the cranberry traces its way back to early settlers of North America from Europe who found the plant, consisting of bushes partially submerged in water and full of color, and decided it looked like a crane, so they named them craneberry bushes, though if you were in Canada you might have called them mossberries.
But the naming strangeness wouldn’t stop with cranes and moss, no way! A “fen” is a type of marsh, and since cranberries need bogs to grow, they were called fenberries for a time, and in the 17th century a lot of New Englanders would see bears eating the cranberries and decide that they should be called bearberries. Naturally, we need to go even further back to the Native Americans to find the cranberry’s true name: Sassamanash. It was back before any English settlers showed up that the native peoples were using the berries for food, medicine, and clothing dye.
Once the English settlers in Massachusetts were introduced to cranberries, they were added to meals and such, hench why we associate cranberry sauce with Thanksgiving so readily. Oddly though, it wasn’t until 1816 that the first real cranberry farm was started, consisting of a plot of land in a town called Dennis in the Cape Cod area by a man named Henry Hall. Finally in the 1820’s, Europe got cranberries. It’s just fun to think that while they’re harvested regularly in Nordic countries and Russia now, cranberries were originally from Northern America, unlike most fruits and vegetables. Fun to have something to call our own!
Health Benefits of Cranberries
Cranberries are considered a super food, though despite the typical marketing rhetoric they actually live up to their name fairly well. Along with the obvious antioxidant properties, they are full of vitamin C, manganese, and fiber. Mmm fiber. There’s also evidence to suggest that cranberries rank near the top of the list for foods that are high on the scale of Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or ORAC, though to be fair that doesn’t necessarily mean anything as science has yet to prove whether that’s a favor in health or not. At the very least, hey, top of a list! Whoo!
Science can tell us that cranberries do strengthen the human immune system, potentially reducing the risk of disease (though just about everything seems to do that these days). Specifically, cranberries tend to be regarded as anti-cancer agents specifically targeting prostate cancer, which would make sense as cranberries are good for the kidneys and when you have a bladder or urinary tract infection, doctors recommend drinking pure cranberry juice to flush your system. Plus, cranberry juice actively inhibits the ability of plaque to build on teeth.
With cranberry juice, studies are constantly being done to determine how it actually affects the urinary tract and how it helps the bladder and urethra. Thus far there haven’t been any conclusive results, but there are suggestions that it acts as an anti-bacterial agent in addition to all the anti-0this and that it’s been doing.
Eating More Cranberries
The nice part about cranberries is that while the juice has a serious bite to it, it’s mixed with dozens of other juices to temper that severity quite a bit, plus it makes an excellent chaser for certain kinds of wines. And as mentioned earlier, straight cranberry juice, while unbelievably tart and throat-gripping, can become somewhat addicting once you’ve acquired the taste for it. Also, despite your best efforts, you probably won’t be able to escape cranberry juice anyway. We’ve all seen the Brian Regan bit, right?
The berries themselves can be just as tasty as the juice, though for some reason they don’t appear in as much as you’d expect. They can be dried like raisins and eaten that way and then baked into a lot of things like cakes, muffins, or bagels, but a bowl of cranberries with some sugar and cream is the more extreme answer to a bowl of strawberries.
You can add them to salads or other dishes as well to add an explosion of flavor (and with the biting taste as I’ve mentioned, it will be noticeable enough to be considered an explosion). Try replacing grapes or raisins in your usual meals with cranberries and see if you can taste the difference. No matter how you try, you just can’t escape the cranberries!