Cranberries are well known for being the sweet, delicious accompaniment to a Thanksgiving turkey, but not much else is commonly known about this berry. They have a unique planting process, are versatile in recipes, and provide ample nutritional benefits.
Cranberry Growth Cycle
Cranberry is native to the U.S. and is mainly grown in the northeastern and north central region of the U.S. and some parts of Canada. This woody plant grows close to the ground, where a thick mat made of the plant’s vines lies. Its short branches grow vertically from the buds along the stems.
Most of the berries grow from the flowers, with some forming on the ends of the stems. These plants require warm, wet and pH-adjusted soil conditions for proper growth.
Most of us have seen TV commercials with cranberries floating on top of water covering large fields and wondered why cranberries are harvested this way.
Every season, commercial cranberry growers flood their berries for different reasons.
Winter cranberry floods serve to protect cranberries from winter-related injuries, while spring, summer and fall cranberry floods control pests and in some cases, remove leaves and other trash from the surface of the water.
Harvest flooding involves submerging cranberries completely under water, allowing cranberries to float to the surface, and managing the water, so it can be reused in several sections of the bog (flooding grounds).
Health Benefits of Cranberries
Cranberries are filled with antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, flavonoids and phenols. They are high in fiber (4 g per serving) and have been found to protect against certain ailments, such as urinary tract infections, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer disease, and even gingivitis and gum disease.
Recipe Ideas Using Cranberries
Besides making a sauce to couple with a savory Thanksgiving dinner, cranberries can be used in many different ways. Because of their bitter flavor, raw cranberries are often added to quick breads, muffins, pies, and other dishes that require cooking. They also make a great pair with apples in this fruit crisp, courtesy of UF/IFAS Extension.
Cranberries are not just for sweets. Add some to salads and grain-based dishes for a fruity tartness. Bathe roasted chicken or pork in a cranberry glaze, or make delicious condiments such as relish, salsa, mustard, ketchup and chutney to dress entrees like burgers. When it comes to this ruby red superfood, recipe ideas are only limited by the imagination!
For more information about cranberries, visit the University of Maine Cooperative Extension online publication on cranberries.
Adapted and excerpted from:
Armstrong, Charles, and Heather Armstrong. “Ways to Use Cranberries.” University of Maine Cooperative Extension. (rev. 12/2009).
DeMoranville, Carolyn, and Hilary Sandler. “Best Management Practices Guide for Massachusetts Cranberry Production.” University of Massachusetts Cranberry Experiment Station. (2000).
“How Cranberries Grow.” UMass Cranberry Station. (Accessed 10/2015).
“How to Grow Cranberries.” University of Maine Cooperative Extension. (Accessed 10/2015).
Keith, Mary A.”Have Another Cranberry with Merry Christmas!.” UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Extension. (12/2014).
“What’s in a Cranberry?.” University of Maine Cooperative Extension. (Accessed 10/2015).
Photo Credits: Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock