Blueberries 101 – The Basics

Blueberries are a sweet, delicious, and VERY healthful fruit to eat. Lucky for us, they’re available year-round usually as fresh in produce departments, but always in the frozen foods department of our grocery stores. There’s little reason not to eat them, and a LOT of reasons TO eat them! The following article has just about any information you may need to know about blueberries, from what they are to suggested recipes. Read on!


Blueberries 101 – The Basics

About Blueberries
Blueberries are members of the Ericaceae family of plants. They are cousins to cranberries, bilberries, huckleberries, and lingonberries. There are many different varieties of blueberries grown around the world with flavors ranging from mildly sweet to tart and tangy, and colors ranging from blue to maroon, to very dark purple. Most blueberries have a waxy “bloom” on the surface that serves as a protective coating.

Most species of blueberries are native to North America, although they are now grown around the world from commercially to home backyards. The wide array of hybrid varieties allows these delicious fruits to be grown from warm regions like Chile and Argentina into cold climates as far north as Scandinavia, and everywhere in between. In the United States, over a dozen states produce blueberries commercially yielding over 550 million pounds of berries each year. Despite that fact, most of the blueberries consumed in America are grown in Chile and Canada.

Nutrition and Health Benefits
Blueberries are high in Vitamins C and K, manganese, copper and fiber. They also contain other nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and folate. Blueberries are considered to have a low glycemic index, with a value between 40 and 52. One cup of blueberries has only 84 calories, which is not a lot considering the nutritional and health benefits of this delicious fruit.

Blueberries are high in phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even antimicrobial properties. These special compounds in blueberries help to fight insulin resistance with antidiabetic effects, lower our risk of heart disease by decreasing blood pressure, protect our nervous system and improve brain function, fight urinary tract infections with their antimicrobial effects, and even help to protect against cancer.

Note that people who take the blood thinner Warfarin should ask their health care provider before consuming a lot of blueberries since the Vitamin K in blueberries may interfere with their medication.

How to Select Blueberries
When shopping for fresh blueberries, look for ones that appear firm, smooth, plump, and have a bright, uniform color with a whitish bloom on the surface. Reddish blueberries are not fully ripe and will be tart. For the best flavor, choose ones with a deep, dark blue color. Gently shake the container to see if the berries move freely. If they do not, they may be soft, damaged and/or have extra moisture in the container which invites mold. Opt for a container where the berries appear to be dry, and free from mold or moisture.

When shopping for frozen berries, opt for a bag where the berries are loose and are not clumped together. This indicates they have been at least partially thawed in transport, then refrozen.

How to Store Fresh Blueberries
When you first bring them home, before placing your fresh berries in the refrigerator, inspect the berries and remove any crushed or moldy/moist berries. They will invite mold and shorten the lifespan of the other berries in the container.

Also, check to see if there is a moisture absorber in the bottom of the container. Some have them whereas others do not. If your container does not have an absorber in it, gently transfer the berries to a clean, dry dish. Place a paper towel that was folded to fit in the bottom of the container and gently transfer the berries back into the container. The paper towel will help to absorb extra moisture in the container, helping to prolong the life of the berries.

Important! Do not wash your berries until you are ready to eat them. Always store them dry. Any moisture in the container will cause them to mold quickly.

How to Freeze Blueberries
Wash and drain fresh berries. Remove any damaged, crushed, or moldy berries before freezing them. Spread the prepared berries on a pan and allow them to dry, then place it in the freezer. When the berries are frozen, transfer them to a covered freezer container or freezer bag. Blueberries will keep well for 1 year in the freezer, although they are safe to eat after that amount of time.

If preferred, fresh blueberries may be frozen unwashed, as they came from the grocery store. Be sure to sort through them and remove any berries with blemishes, soft spots or mold. Freeze them in the same manner as stated above, but remember to wash them before using them after they are frozen.

Expect some changes in color and texture when your frozen berries are thawed. They will be darker in color and softer in texture. Use frozen berries in their frozen state if possible, or use them immediately after thawing. If you have thawed blueberries that you cannot use right away, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within three days.

Dried vs Fresh vs Frozen Blueberries
Dried blueberries. Dried blueberries usually are made with added sugar and oil. Some varieties also have added sulfur dioxide. So if you’re avoiding added sugars, oil, and other ingredients, reading labels is mandatory when shopping for dried blueberries. With the added ingredients, they are much higher in calories and (of course) fat than fresh or frozen blueberries. Also, up to half of the antioxidants of blueberries are lost in the drying process, so overall the dried variety is not as healthful as the fresh berries. However, since dried blueberries are concentrated, they have more fiber than their fresh counterparts, which makes them a good dietary addition for those suffering from constipation. Dried blueberries can be a flavorful addition to homemade trail mix and granola.

Fresh blueberries. Fresh blueberries have their maximum potential of antioxidants and health benefits, with relatively few calories and ample fiber to counter the effects of their natural sugars. They are often available in most grocery stores year-round, and can be used in just about any recipe calling for blueberries. The down side to fresh blueberries is the fact that they are relatively expensive and they are highly perishable.

Frozen blueberries. Frozen blueberries are a convenient form of this healthful fruit to keep on hand. Since they are frozen shortly after being harvested, their nutrient content is similar to that of fresh berries found in your local market. Research at the South Dakota State University found the antioxidant levels in frozen blueberries to be comparable to those in the fresh berries, when tested at one, three, and five months after being frozen. Commercially frozen blueberries have been washed before being frozen, so they are ready to use right from the package. Frozen blueberries can easily be added to cooked dishes, like hot oatmeal, muffins, crisps, tarts, breads, pies, and sauces. It’s best to use frozen blueberries within one year of purchase.

How to Prepare Blueberries
Blueberries are very perishable, so do not wash them until you’re ready to use them. First look through them to remove any moldy or damaged berries. Remove any stems that are still attached to berries. Place them in a bowl of water or in a strainer within a bowl of water. Give them a gentle swirl, then drain them well. If desired, spread them on a paper towel and gently pat them dry.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Blueberries
Blueberries can be found in the freezer section of many grocery stores and are often found fresh year-round in produce departments. With blueberries readily available there’s good reason to make use of them as often as possible.

* Top waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt, or any cereal with blueberries for a sweet, healthful addition to breakfast or dessert.

* Add blueberries to your favorite smoothie for a health and flavor boost.

* Add blueberries to muffins or quick breads.

* Add blueberries to your favorite green salad for a fruity sweetness and healthy addition.

* Top ice cream or frozen yogurt with blueberries.

* Make flavorful ice cubes by placing fresh or frozen blueberries into ice cube trays. Cover with apple juice and freeze. Place the frozen cubes in lemonade, iced tea or club soda.

* When adding blueberries (especially frozen berries) to batters, such as muffins or pancakes, first toss the berries with a little of the flour to be used in the recipe. Then add them last to the batter after it is well mixed. This will help to keep them suspended in the batter rather than sinking to the bottom. This also helps to keep the berries from bleeding their juices in the batter, turning it blue or purple.

* Another way to keep blueberries from sinking in a batter is to spread half the batter in the pan, add half the blueberries, add the remaining batter, then top with the remaining blueberries.

* Make a quick trail mix with your favorite nuts and dried blueberries.

* Blueberries go well with chicken, so they also make a nice addition to chicken salad.

* Make an easy sandwich with your favorite nut butter topped with fresh blueberries instead of jelly or jam.

* Freeze your favorite blueberry puree into popsicle molds for a cold refreshing treat on a hot day.

* Add frozen blueberries to a beverage for a fruity, refreshing flavor, especially on a hot summer day. While frozen, they will function as little ice cubes, chilling your beverage that much more.

* Make a parfait by layering your favorite chia pudding, with blueberries and peaches.

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Blueberries
Cinnamon, ginger, mint, nutmeg, rosemary, thyme, vanilla

Foods That Go Well with Blueberries
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, chicken, hazelnuts, nuts (in general), pecans, pork, sausage, turkey

Vegetables: Cucumbers, fennel, greens (salad), rhubarb, spinach

Fruits: Apples, apple juice, apricots, bananas, blackberries, coconut, currants, lemon, lime, mango, melon, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon

Grains and Grain Products: Cereals, corn, grains (in general, esp. whole grains), oats, rice

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Buttermilk, cheese (in general), cream, crème fraiche, ice cream, mascarpone, sour cream, yogurt

Other Foods: Agave nectar, balsamic vinegar, honey, lavender, maple syrup, sugar

Blueberries have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (breads, muffins, quick breads, scones), cereals, corn cakes, crepes, desserts (cobblers, pies, tarts, crisps, crumbles), drinks (i.e. cocktails), granola, pancakes, salads, salsas, sauces, smoothies, soups (fruit)

Suggested Flavor Combos Using Blueberries
Combine blueberries with any of the following…
Cinnamon + lemon + rice
Cinnamon + nutmeg + peaches
Corn + nectarines
Cream cheese + lemon + nutmeg
Ginger + orange
Hazelnuts + rhubarb + ricotta
Honey + lime + mango
Lemon + ricotta
Maple syrup + pecans

Recipe Links
Massaged Kale Salad with Creamy Blueberry Vinaigrette

Blueberry Chia Smoothie

Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie

Easy Blueberry Fruit Leather

Blueberry and Watermelon Salad with Marinated Feta

Chocolate Almond Blueberry Smoothie Bowl

Blueberry Balsamic Dressing

Blueberry Almond Overnight Oats

Blueberry Chutney

5 Ingredient Blueberry Skillet Dump Cake

27 Super-Sweet Blueberry Desserts That Taste Like Summer

40 Recipes to Make with Fresh Blueberries

22 Blueberry Recipes We’re Completely Obsessed With

56 Healthy Ways to Eat More Blueberries

Autumn Spiced Blueberry Chia Jam

Blueberry Sauce


Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

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