Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) share the genus Vaccinium with blueberries and bilberries. All these berries belong to the Ericaceae family, along with huckleberries, Rhododendron, azalea, heath, and heather. They grow on long, running vines in acidic, sandy bogs and marshes.
Cranberries are native to the northeast United States, Wisconsin, and the Pacific Northwest. Native American used crushed cranberries to preserve food throughout the winter. They also used cranberries as medicine and dye. In 1620, English settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts, learned to use cranberries from the Native Americans. By 1683, they were making cranberry juice.
Cultivation of cranberries began around 1816, after Captain Henry Hall, of Dennis, Massachusetts, noticed that the wild cranberries in his bogs grew better when sand blew over them. Captain Hall began transplanting his cranberry vines, fencing them in, and spreading sand on them himself. By the 1820s, cranberries were being exported to Europe. By the 1850s, American sailors carried cranberries on their voyages to prevent scurvy.
When an American ship loaded with crates filled with cranberries sank along the Dutch coast, many crates washed ashore on the small island of Terschelling. Some of the berries took root, and cranberries have been cultivated there ever since.
- Protect against Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and alkaline stones: Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), phytochemicals that make it more difficult for certain types of bacteria to adhere to your urinary tract lining, including pathogenic strains of E. coli, one of the most common microorganisms involved in UTIs. They prevent the growth of bacteria populations that can result in infection, especially in middle-aged women with recurrent UTIs. Eating cranberries turns urine acidic. This, together with the bacterial anti-adhesion property of cranberry juice helps prevent the formation of alkaline (calcium ammonium phosphate) stones in your urinary tract.
- Lower your risk of periodontal disease and tooth decay: Chronic inflammation around your gums can damage the tissues that support your teeth. This kind of inflammation gets triggered by overproduction of certain cytokines, pro-inflammatory messaging molecules, that tell your cells to mount an inflammatory response. As messages are sent more frequently and more constantly, the inflammatory response becomes greater. Phytochemicals in cranberries, including proanthocyanidins (PACs), anthocyanins (the flavonoid pigments that give cranberries their color), flavonols (like quercetin), and phenolic acid (like hydroxycinnamic acids), help reduce this inflammatory cascade of events by lowering production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. In addition, cranberry phytochemicals inhibit the activity of certain enzymes that help produce other pro-inflammatory messaging molecules, and significantly lower your risk of chronic inflammation. Cranberries prevent plaque formation on surfaces of your teeth by interfering with the ability of a gram-negative bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, to stick to the surface, therefore helping prevent the development of cavities.
- Support cardiovascular health: Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation can put your blood vessel walls at great risk of damage, and plaques can form on these damaged blood vessel walls, greatly increasing your risk of atherosclerosis (thickening of blood vessel walls and blocking of blood vessels). Eating cranberries and drinking cranberry juice can prevent the activation of two enyzmes that are pivotal in the atherosclerosis process by blocking the activity of a pro-inflammatory cytokine-messaging molecule. Antioxidants in cranberries, such as oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC’s), anthocyanidin flavonoids, cyanidin, peonidin and quercetin, may prevent cardiovascular disease by fighting cholesterol plaque formation in your heart and blood vessels. The antioxidants in cranberries also reduce oxidative stress inside your blood vessels, thereby helping to prevent constriction of your blood vessels and unwanted increases in blood pressure. Three related phytochemicals—resveratrol, piceatannol, and pterostilbene—may provide cranberries with unique antioxidant properties, and a special ability to support your cardiovascular system in this regard. Excess accumulation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and insufficient amounts of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol can increase the tendency of your blood vessels to become blocked. Cranberries can help lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, while simultaneously helping increase HDL cholesterol, most likely by helping to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Improve digestive health: Phytochemicals in cranberries can also reduce the risk of chronic inflammation in your stomach and large intestine (colon). The proanthocyanidins in cranberries decrease adherence of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori to your stomach wall, helping to prevent ulcers. Cranberry juice may also be able to help optimize the balance of probiotic microbes in your digestive tract. Drinking approximately 2 ounces of cranberry juice per day over the course of about 3 months can increase the numbers of desirable Bifidobacteria in your digestive tract while maintaining other bacterial types, making the bacterial environment of your digestive tract more favorable.
- Support your immune system: Cranberry extracts (and possibly generous intake of raw cranberries) can improve immune function, and lower the frequency of cold and flu symptoms.
- Fight free radicals: A vast array of antioxidants are in whole cranberries, including phenolic antioxidants, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, flavonoids, and triterpenoids, resveratrol, piceatannol, and pterostilbene. The synergy between these phytochemicals in cranberries provide maximum antioxidant benefits, often at the cellular level, only when you eat them in combination, and alongside of conventional antioxidants in cranberries like manganese and vitamin C. When cranberry processing strips any one of these nutrients, the health benefits from cranberries are decreased.
- Fight cancer. Chronic oxidative stress (from lack of sufficient antioxidants) and chronic inflammation (from lack of sufficient anti-inflammatory compounds) are two key risk factors for cancer. With their unique array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, cranberries can help you lower your risk of developing cancer, especially breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer, by blocking, inhibiting, or stimulating certain enzymes and by triggering apoptosis (programmed cell death) in tumor cells. Resveratrol in cranberries decreases phase III detoxification protein synthesis, which may prevent certain leukemia cells from becoming resistant to chemotherapy. Ellagic acid in cranberries directly inhibits the DNA binding of certain carcinogens, and acts as an antioxidant. Malvidin in cranberries may kill cancer cells. Catechins in cranberries are potent antioxidants that can prevent tumor blood vessel growth.
Cranberries are also a good source of many vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin E, pantothenic acid, vitamin K, and vitamin B6, and minerals like iodine, manganese, copper, and iron. The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC (the measurement of the antioxidant strength of food items) of cranberries (9584 µmol TE units per 100 grams) is one of the highest in edible fruits.
Nutrients in 100 Grams Fresh Cranberries
|vitamin C||13.3 mg||22%|
|vitamin E||1.20 mg||8%|
|pantothenic acid||0.295 mg||6%|
|vitamin K||5.1 µg||4%|
|vitamin B6||0.057 mg||4%|
|vitamin A||60 IU||2%|
Growers harvest fresh cranberries between Labor Day and Halloween and the berries appear in stores from October through December. Choose cranberries that are deep red, plump, and firm, and that are free from wrinkles, have intact skin, and don’t have any cuts or cracks. Antioxidant pigments are concentrated in deep red berries. The deeper red their color, the more highly concentrated are cranberries’ beneficial anthocyanin compounds. Firmness is a primary indicator of quality. Cranberries are typically packed in 12-ounce plastic bags.
Before storing, discard any wet, soft, mottled, discolored, pitted, sticky, or shriveled fruits, as they tend to spread mold to the other berries. Store fresh ripe cranberries in the refrigerator for up to 20 days. Cranberries may look damp when you remove them from the refrigerator, but dampness does not indicate spoilage, unless the berries are discolored or feel sticky, leathery, or tough.
Alternatively, you can freeze cranberries. To freeze, spread fresh cranberries out on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. In a couple of hours, the fully frozen berries will be ready to transfer to a freezer bag. Don’t forget to date the bag before returning to the freezer. You can keep frozen cranberries for several years.
Treat fresh cranberries with care. Just prior to using them, place cranberries in a colander and briefly and gently rinse under cool running water. When using frozen berries in recipes that do not require cooking, thaw them well and drain prior to using. Use thawed berries immediately, as they are quite soft. For cooked recipes, use unthawed berries to ensure maximum flavor. Extend the cooking time a few minutes to accommodate for the frozen berries. Cranberries retain their maximum amount of nutrients and taste when they are enjoyed fresh and not cooked. Their nutrients—including vitamins, antioxidants, and enzymes—are unable to withstand the temperatures used in baking.
You can also find dried cranberries in many grocery stores displayed near other dried fruits. Fresh, as well as dried berries contain the most antioxidants while bottled cranberry drinks and cranberry cocktails with added sugars contain the least.
Cranberries are very acidic, with a pH in the range of 2.3 to 2.5.
Here are some serving ideas:
- Eat raw, fresh, or dried cranberries alone as snacks.
- Add cranberries to green as well fruit salads.
- To balance their extreme tartness, combine fresh cranberries with other fruits such as oranges, pineapple, apples, dates, or pears. You can also add a little fruit juice or maple syrup to chopped fresh cranberries.
- Take advantage of cranberries’ tartness by using blended cranberries or cranberry juice to replace vinegar or lemon in salad dressings.
- Use cranberries as an ingredient in sorbets and fruit cocktails.
- Use cranberries to prepare sauce, jam, and jelly.
- For an easy-to-make holiday salad, place 2 cups fresh berries in your food processor along with 1/2 cup of pineapple chunks, a quartered skinned orange, a sweet apple, and a handful or two of walnuts or pecans. Blend till well mixed but still chunky. Transfer to a large bowl and serve.
- Combine unsweetened cranberry juice in equal parts with your favorite fruit juice and sparkling mineral water for a lightly sweetened, refreshing spritzer. For even more color, garnish with a slice of lime.
- Add color and variety to your favorite recipes for rice pudding, pie filling, quick breads, or muffins by using fresh or dried cranberries instead of raisins.
- Sprinkle a handful of dried cranberries over a bowl of hot oatmeal or barley, or any cold cereal.
- Mix dried cranberries with nuts for a delicious snack.
Here are some ANDI scores for cranberries:
- Cranberries, fresh 207
- Cranberries, dried and sweetened 42
- Cranberry Juice Cocktail 32
This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.
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