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Foods

Cranberries

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Most Americans think of cranberries as little more than a condiment for their Thanksgiving turkey, but these tart little berries deserve more attention. The health focus on cranberries of late has been on their apparent effect in preventing urinary tract infections. Researchers are not sure of the precise mechanism, but it may be that the tannins in the berries (which contribute to their mouth-puckering tartness) help fight certain bacteria. Cranberries, like a number of other berries, also contain ellagic acid, a cancer-fighting phytochemical.

Cranberries are too tart to eat raw or in any unsweetened form but they can be combined with sweeter fruits, such as apples or pears, so that very little additional sugar is needed.

Dried cranberries (sometimes called craisins), which are usually sweetened, can be substituted for raisins or other dried fruits in compotes, cookies, and muffins.

Varieties

The wild cranberries favored by early settlers have been largely replaced by cultivated varieties that are larger, glossier, and more flavorful. Four major varieties of cranberries are now grown commercially in the U.S. They vary somewhat in size and color, but all taste virtually the same.

Availability

Only about 10% of the commercial crop is sold fresh; the rest is used either in juice or canned cranberry sauce. Fresh cranberries are available all year round, but are more plentiful beginning in September and through December. Frozen cranberries have become increasingly available.

Shopping

Cranberries are usually sold in bags, and since they're firm, rather than soft like most other berries, they're likely to be in good condition. Check them for firmness and good red color; the bag should contain a minimum of pale berries and debris.

Storage

Cranberries store well--about two weeks in the refrigerator, and a year in the freezer. You can put bags of cranberries in the freezer with no further preparation, and can cook with the frozen berries without thawing them.

Preparation

It's easy to clean and pick over cranberries by placing them in a basin of cold water; twigs, leaves, and unripe berries are easy to spot because they float to the surface. The process should be done quickly, though--you don't want to soak the berries. Cook cranberries with a small amount of liquid (frozen apple juice concentrate is a good choice, because it sweetens the berries too) until the berries pop. Fold cooked berries into homemade applesauce or compote, or try adding them to sliced apples or pears to fill a pie, cobbler, or fruit crisp. If enough sweetener is added, cranberries can be used on their own without any other fruit to fill a tart shell.

Nutrition Chart

Fresh Cranberries/1 cup raw

47
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
4
0
Carbohydrate (g)
12
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
1
Vitamin C (mg)
13

Dried Cranberries/2 ounces

209
Total fat (g)
3.7
Saturated fat (g)
0.5
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
2.2
Dietary fiber (g)
14
2
Carbohydrate (g)
48
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
9
Vitamin C (mg)
18


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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