It may not be as sweet as a strawberry or as ready-to-eat as a blueberry, but the cranberry is not a berry to be trifled with (although we happen to think it makes a pretty scrumptious trifle).
We're smack in the middle of cranberry season. The harvest runs from October through December -- and that means now is the time for crispy homemade cobblers, creamy fruit-topped custards, and jellied sauce.
More importantly, these tart little treats are packed with health-promoting properties, including vitamin C, fiber, and flavonoids. These help the body fight against cardiovascular disease, infections, and even certain types of cancer.
One of the scientifically proven secrets to their power is how they're harvested. One such method is called "water" or "wet" harvesting, in which the bogs are flooded so that the berries can be easily dislodged from their vines and bob along the water's surface. This has become the go-to method for most farmers -- it's simply easier to harvest them when they are so buoyant.
Scientific research has taken interest in this method too. A published study found that the anthocyanin properties -- this is what gives cranberries that bright red pop of color -- found in cranberries increase in proportion to the amount of natural sunlight they get. By mimicking the conditions of water harvesting, researchers could determine that cranberries grown and cultivated this way could be better loaded with antioxidants, meaning that you can better reap their health benefits.
It should be noted that wet-harvested cranberries are usually processed for juices, jams, and dried products; that's because, when wet, the berries tend to spoil more quickly. What you see at the market tends to be berries that are dry harvested. This is done by farmers with self-propelled mechanical pickers that comb through the bogs. The collected berries are then inspected for soft spots and discoloration, so that the best of the crop can be bagged and sold to local buyers. Both harvesting methods have their benefits -- it really just depends on how you plan to use them in your cooking at home.
Eat More Cranberries
We admit that raw cranberries can taste tart, so we wouldn't blame you if you snuck them into a satisfyingly sweet snack like breakfast muffins. But no matter how you plan on eating these bright little berries (and no matter how they were harvested), here are a few very compelling reasons to indulge.
Boost Your Immunity
Regularly consuming cranberries lowers the risk of developing certain infections. This is in part due to the vitamin C in cranberries, which hinders the growth of bacteria like E. coli. One cup of raw cranberries fufills about a fourth of the recommended daily intake. Try adding a zing of citrus zest to your cranberry sauce, it will make for some extra-flavorful holiday leftovers.
Keep Your Heart Healthy
Drinking three cups of cranberry juice a day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 40 percent, according to a study conducted by the University of Scranton. They found that the subjects of their study had increased levels of lipoprotein (or "good" cholesterol). Three cups a day may not be doable, but trying a few new cranberry cocktails a week may be just the thing to spruce up your diet. For this, serve a ravishing red punch (preferably skipping the alcohol) at your next house party.
Keep Your Mind Sharp
Researchers are probing more and more into the mind-improving properties of berries -- and cranberries, specifically. It was found in one such study that a half-cup of whole cranberries reduced the death of brain cells in subjects by half, suggesting that cranberries can aid recovery from a stroke. So feel free to indulge in this sweet (and slightly less guilty) dessert.