Blackberries 101 – The Basics


Blackberries 101 – The Basics

About Blackberries
Blackberries are large, deep purple berries that often grow wild on thorny bushes. The plants are members of the Rubus (rose or Rosaceae) family. They are closely related to raspberries, which are in the same plant genus, Rubus. Blackberries are native to northern temperate areas, especially in eastern North America, and on the Pacific coast of North America.

There are 375 species of blackberry plants, found around the world. Today there are thousands of blackberry hybrid varieties, including thornless bushes, which were developed in recent years. The first modern blackberry variety was developed in 1880 by Judge Logan of California. His plant was released as the Loganberry. Blackberries are sometimes referred to as brambleberries. However, the term “brambleberry” can also be used to refer to other thorny bushes that produce fruits, such as raspberries, boysenberries, loganberries, and others.

Blackberries are sweet/sour, with a juicy texture and lots of crunchy seeds. They can be enjoyed fresh, cooked, and frozen, and are popular in desserts, jams, jellies, candy and sometimes wine. Blackberries are often combined with other fruit, such as apples, for pies and crumbles.

Ancient cultures rarely cultivated blackberry bushes. Instead, they were treated as wild plants and used for medicinal purposes. The ancient Greeks used blackberries as a remedy for gout. The ancient Romans made a medicinal tea from the leaves of the blackberry plant to treat assorted illnesses.

Nutrition and Health Benefits
Blackberries are an excellent source of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, and K, and also folate, calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. They are a good source of amino acids (protein) and fiber. Blackberries have only 43 calories in 3.5 ounces (100 grams), and 1 cup (about 140 grams) has about 62 calories. They are a low-calorie food, so eat all you want!

Blackberries also have an abundant supply of antioxidants, especially anthocyanins and phenolic compounds, that give blackberries their deep color and offer a variety of health benefits.

Antioxidant Protection, Anti-Cancer and Other Health Effects. Research studies have suggested that berries high in anthocyanins (like blackberries) may protect against cancers of the esophagus, mouth, breast, colon, and possibly other types of cancer. Blackberry extracts have been shown to demonstrate antimutagenic effects by suppressing tumor promoting factors. This in itself helps to lower the risk of developing cancer. Research to this effect is scarce, but warrants further testing.

Blackberries, along with other berries are high in antioxidants that keep harmful free radical molecules under control. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells when their numbers get too high, causing oxidative stress. Reducing oxidative stress lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The antioxidants found in blackberries and other berries have been shown to help protect eyes against harmful free radicals and oxidative stress. Rutin, a plant pigment (flavonoid) found in blackberries, has been shown to strengthen blood vessels to the eyes and thereby improve eye health and ward off diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.

High in Vitamin C. Just one cup of fresh blackberries has about 30 milligrams of Vitamin C. That’s half of the recommended daily intake of this crucial antioxidant vitamin needed for collagen formation in bones, connective tissue and blood vessels. Vitamin C is also used in wound healing, regenerating skin, fighting harmful free radical molecules in the body, iron absorption, fighting disease, and preventing scurvy (the Vitamin C deficiency disease). Vitamin C also is an important antioxidant in the body that helps reduce oxidative stress that can lead to the development of cancer.

Low Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load: Blood Sugar and Insulin Response. Blackberries may improve your blood sugar and insulin levels. They have a low Glycemic Index of only 25. This means they will not cause a big spike in blood sugar when eaten and should be safe for diabetics to eat. This improves blood sugar regulation and may be helpful in keeping cholesterol levels in check.

The Glycemic Load of blackberries is also very low, being only 4. This represents how one’s blood sugar levels may be affected after eating a specific food. With a very low Glycemic Load of only 4, blackberries will hardly, if at all, affect blood sugar levels. Research studies suggest that blackberries may protect cells from high blood sugar levels, help increase insulin sensitivity, and reduce blood sugar and insulin response to high-carbohydrate meals. These effects appeared to happen in both healthy people and those with insulin resistance. This is critical information for diabetics and those managing blood sugar levels, which means that blackberries are fruit such individuals should be able to eat without issue.

High Fiber Benefits. Blackberries are a good source of fiber, including soluble fiber. This type of fiber slows the movement of the intestinal contents, helping to increase the feeling of fullness, reducing hunger. This can help in weight management, reducing the need to eat frequently. Increased fiber also helps to reduce the number of calories absorbed from mixed meals. One research study found that doubling fiber intake could result in eating up to 130 fewer calories in a day.

The high fiber content of berries also means they are low in digestible or net carbohydrates (which is determined by subtracting the total fiber from total carbohydrates). For instance, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of blackberries has 10.2 grams of total carbohydrates, 5.3 grams of which are fiber. This brings the net carbohydrates of 100 grams of blackberries to 4.9 grams. Because of their low net carbohydrate content, blackberries are considered to be a low-carb-friendly food.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits. Because of their many antioxidants, berries (including blackberries) have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s defense mechanism in fighting infection and injury. However, current lifestyles often contribute to excessive, long-term inflammation brought on by increased stress, inactivity, and unhealthy foods. This type of chronic inflammation contributes to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Research has shown that the antioxidants in berries may help to lower inflammatory markers, thus reducing the risk of diseases brought on by long-term inflammation.

Skin Health.  Antioxidants in berries help to control free radicals in the body. Free radicals are among the leading causes of skin damage that contribute to aging. Ellagic acid, one of the antioxidants found in blackberries and other berries, appears to be responsible for some of the skin-related benefits attributed to berries. Research suggests that this antioxidant may protect skin by blocking the production of enzymes that break down collagen in sun-damaged skin. Collagen is a protein within the skin’s structure that allows skin to stretch and remain firm. When collagen is damaged, the skin may sag and develop wrinkles.

Brain Health. Blackberries and other berries may improve brain health and prevent memory loss caused by aging. In a review published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers concluded that antioxidants in berries help fight free radicals and alter how brain neurons communicate. This may help reduce inflammation in the brain, which can lead to cognitive and motor issues that often accompany aging.

High in Vitamin K. Blackberries are high in Vitamin K. This vital vitamin plays an important role in the blood clotting function. It is also important in bone metabolism. A deficiency of Vitamin K can lead to bone thinning and fractures, and may cause easy bruising. Just one cup of raw blackberries provides over one-third of the daily recommended value of Vitamin K.

It is noteworthy that if you take blood thinners, monitoring your intake of Vitamin K is important because it can interfere with medications. Eating a consistent amount of Vitamin K-rich foods such as blackberries, green leafy vegetables, soybeans, and fermented dairy foods, helps in the management of medication dosages. Consult with your healthcare provider if you expect to make significant dietary changes that may affect your medication dosages.

High in Manganese. Blackberries are high in manganese. This mineral is vital to healthy bone development, a healthy immune system, metabolizing carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol, and also plays a role in the formation of collagen during wound healing. Manganese may also help prevent osteoporosis, manage blood sugar levels, and reduce epileptic seizures. One cup of fresh blackberries contains almost half the daily recommended value of manganese, so they are clearly a great source of this vital mineral.

How to Select Blackberries
When buying blackberries, choose ones with color ranging from deep purple/black to deep blue/purple. They should not have any green or white patches on them. They should be moderately firm, plump, dry, uniform in color, and not wrinkled or dried out.

When buying blackberries in a grocery store, examine the container for signs of dampness from crushed berries or water droplets that have accumulated, stains and mold. Avoid any containers with any of those indications, which would be signs of age and possible decay. Most blackberries will be packaged with a moisture absorber in the container to help extend the life of the berry (which is desirable). Avoid containers without them, since the berries will age faster.

When picking your own blackberries, choose ones that are plump with a slightly tender feel. They should be dark in color. The skin of a ripe blackberry is dull black and not shiny. [Note that fully ripe blackberries have a short life, so plan to use them right away. Those packaged commercially are picked earlier, when not fully ripe, so they will last longer.] Red to light purple berries are not ripe yet. A ripe blackberry will release from the plant with a slight tug. If a blackberry is dull (not shiny), soft, and starting to leak its juices, it is overripe.

Blackberries start to ripen when the weather is consistently warm. When picking your own blackberries, don’t overfill your container. Limit stacking them to no more than 5 inches high (maximum) to avoid crushing the berries on the bottom. If you pick berries in the heat of the day, the warmth in the picked berries will cause them to age fast. It’s best to spread them out and/or expose them to air conditioning as soon as you can to release the heat and preserve your delicate berries.

How to Store Blackberries
First, remove any damaged or decaying blackberries from the container. Do not wash blackberries until you are ready to use them. Refrigerate unwashed blackberries right away in an open area in the refrigerator. They need to be kept dry. If storing them in a crisper drawer, be sure to have the air vent open, or on the low humidity setting.

For best quality, use your blackberries within 3 days. If they are very fresh, they may keep for up to one week.

How to Prepare Blackberries
Simply wash your berries right before you want to enjoy them. Place them in a colander and rinse them under cold water. Allow them to drain. Or, place them in a bowl of cold water. Gently swish them around, then carefully remove them to a colander to drain.

How to Preserve Blackberries
Extra blackberries can easily be frozen. Simply wash them, drain well to remove as much water as possible. Remove any hulls or stems from the berries and place them in a freezer bag or container. Remove as much air as possible and freeze.

To freeze blackberries so they don’t form one big clump, spread the washed berries out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the tray in the freezer. When the berries are frozen, transfer them to a freezer container or bag. Use frozen blackberries within one year.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Blackberries
* Combine blackberries with apples in a pie.

* If a recipe calls for blackberries and you don’t have any, loganberries, boysenberries, or raspberries may be used as substitutes.

* One pint of fresh blackberries is about 2 cups.

* Ten ounces of frozen blackberries is about 2 cups.

* Ten blackberries count as one serving.

* Make easy Blackberry-Banana Overnight Oats. Blend 1 cup of blackberries with ½ banana, ½ cup milk of choice, and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract. Pour into a mason jar. Stir in ½ cup oats. Cover the jar and place it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, top with more blackberries and the other half of the banana and enjoy!

* Try a Blackberry-Pomegranate Salad. Make a salad base with red cabbage, lettuce, spinach, blackberries, slivers of pears, and a little red onion. Dress it with a mixture of 2 cups of pomegranate juice, up to ¼ cup honey for a little sweetener, and the juice of ½ lime. Sprinkle the salad with toasted, sliced almonds and enjoy!

* Unripe blackberries will not further ripen after being picked. So, if you’re picking your own, choose only the ripe berries.

* Try easy blackberry popsicles. In a blender, combine ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk, 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup, 2 tsp lemon juice, and 4 cups fresh or frozen blackberries. Blend until smooth, then pour into popsicle molds. Freeze then enjoy! Makes 4 popsicles.

* If you can’t get fresh blackberries locally, opt for frozen. They are usually picked at their peak of ripeness and frozen very quickly after being harvested, sometimes as soon as 20 minutes after being harvested. You can’t get much fresher than that!

* Try toping some pancakes or waffles with fresh blackberries and a little yogurt.

* Top your favorite pudding with fresh blackberries and a sprinkle of granola.

* How about a nut butter and fresh blackberry sandwich? Make it richer by adding sliced banana.

* Try a savory blackberry sauce by gently cooking until smooth: 1 pint of blackberries, ½ cup of balsamic vinegar, and 2 teaspoons of maple syrup or honey. Try it over grilled meat, chicken or seafood. It would work really well with grilled salmon.

* Try an easy frozen treat by blending mashed banana, blackberries, and fruit-flavored yogurt. Pour into muffin cups with a popsicle stick in the middle and freeze.

* Make a parfait by layering yogurt, granola, blackberries and banana slices.

* Add blackberries to a smoothie.

* Use blackberries as a topping for frozen yogurt or ice cream.

* Make a simple fruit salad by combining blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, banana slices, and orange segments. Top with a dollop of yogurt and enjoy!

* Add fresh blackberries to your favorite green salad. Dress it with a balsamic vinaigrette and top it off with a sprinkle of slivered almonds or toasted walnuts.

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Blackberries
Basil, chamomile, cinnamon, lemon herbs (i.e., lemon balm, lemon verbena), mint, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla

Foods That Go Well with Blackberries
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beef, chicken, ham, hazelnuts, pecans, poppy seeds, pork, pumpkin seeds, salmon

Vegetables: Endive, ginger, rhubarb

Fruits: Apples, bananas, blueberries, figs, lemon, lime, mangoes, melons, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon

Grains and Grain Products: Granola, oats

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (i.e., cream, ricotta), cream, crème fraiche, ice cream, mascarpone, milk (in general), sour cream, yogurt

Other Foods: Caramel, chocolate, honey, liqueurs, maple syrup, meringue, rose geranium, sugar, vinegar (balsamic), wine (i.e., fruity, sweet red)

Blackberries have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Cereals (breakfast), coulis, desserts (i.e., cobblers, crisps, crumbles, tarts), muesli, pies, puddings, salads (fruit), sauces, smoothies, sorbets, soups (fruit)

Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Blackberries
Add blackberries to any of the following combinations…

Apples + Brown Sugar + Cinnamon
Apples + Cinnamon + Hazelnuts
Cinnamon + Orange
Honey + Yogurt
Lime + Mint
Lime + Yogurt
Papaya + Yogurt

Recipe Links
50 Blackberry Recipes to Make Summer So Much Sweeter

Blackberry-Glazed Chicken

Blackberry Freezer Jam

Blackberry Banana Overnight Oats

Blackberry Pie Bars

Blackberry Cobbler in Mason Jars

Blackberry Arugula Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

Watermelon, Blackberry, and Mint Salad

Fall Spiced Skirt Steak Tacos with Blackberry and Pear Slaw

Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes with Blackberry Salsa

45 Blackberry Recipes Bursting with Juicy Flavor

Berry-Beet Salad

Blackberry Frozen Yogurt

Avocado Fruit Salad with Tangerine Vinaigrette

Four-Berry Spinach Salad

Arugula Salad with Berry Dressing

34 Blackberry Recipes

20 Totally Beautiful Blackberry Desserts

30 Delicious Blackberry Recipes You Should Try At Least Once

18 Knockout Blackberry Recipes

Spiced Roasted Apples and Blackberries

Blackberry Strawberry Sorbet [Vegan]


Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.

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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