Found in the shrubs and bogs of the Northern Hemisphere, cranberries are a type of berry with tons of uses – from their place in holiday traditions to their use in jellies, jams, and sauces around the world!
A Combination of Acidity and Sweetness
A product of the evergreen shrubs that are referred to as cranberry bushes, most cranberries start off with a light green color, slowly moving towards a deep pinkish-red as they ripen.
It’s estimated that there are over 100 different genetic variants of cranberry plants in the North American region. Some varieties include:
- Midnight Eight
- Crimson King
- Crimson Queen
- Granite Red
Cranberries can be quite sweet, but also pretty acidic. Once dried and sweetened, they can be found in any number of trail mixes and other snacks.
Cranberry bushes themselves can grow up to 7 feet long.
An Early History
North American colonial texts often reference the cranberry, some as early as 1550. However, the first recipe for cranberry sauce didn’t appear until 1663, when it was included in a Pilgrim cookbook.
Modern Cranberry Production
Today, the majority of cranberry farming takes place in cranberry bogs. During their growing season, these vines are watered frequently during the summer and flooded in late autumn to protect the plants against the cold winter temperatures that are common to North America.
A Variety of Cranberry Dishes
Though it’s not as common to find people eating cranberries raw due to the acidic taste they often have, they do show up in a variety of dishes.
As noted, dried cranberries are a popular snack, and can be added to everything from salads to desserts.
Other dishes are frequently associated with the holiday season, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cranberry sauce is a staple of the Thanksgiving table, and a multitude of cakes and other desserts are known to feature cranberries during the Christmas season.
Cranberry Christmas Cake
One of the most popular desserts that features cranberries is the Cranberry Christmas Cake. This sweet dish is one that uses fresh cranberries and results in a buttery cake that can be served in squares or larger pieces at holiday parties.
An Important Export
Culturally, the importance of the cranberry lies in its use in traditional holiday meals.
However, cranberries are also a big part of American exports. In fact, cranberries from the United States are imported to places like China, Mexico, and South Korea, making up a surprising amount of U.S. exports.
The cranberry isn’t just a large export or a good addition to holiday treats. In fact, it also has some medical benefits. A study done in 2017 showed that products that had cranberries in them were instrumental in reducing the risk of UTIs.
Additionally, raw cranberries include phytochemicals, compounds that are currently being studied for effects on cancer cells, the immune system, and the cardiovascular system.
Small Berry, Big Impact
Though the cranberry may not be on everyone’s list of favorite foods, these tiny berries really do pack a punch. Useful in both medicine and in traditional dishes, the cranberry really is significant – both historically and in today’s import and export trade.