Cranberries are popular in American cuisine, especially during the fall months when they are freshly harvested. They are traditionally served with most Thanksgiving feasts. Not only do we enjoy cranberry sauce during Thanksgiving, but we also love cranberry bread, cranberry salad, cranberry beverages, and dried cranberries in trail mix.
If you’re looking for something a little different to do with cranberries this year, read on! I have a LOT of suggestions to do with cranberries along with suggested flavor combinations of foods that go well with cranberries. Look no more!!
Cranberries 101 – The Basics
Unlike many foods we routinely consume today, cranberries are native to North America. Interestingly, the plant has not spread widely across the globe. Today, over 80 percent of the world’s cranberries are grown in the United States and Canada, with most of those being grown in the United States. In 2014, about 840 million pounds of cranberries were produced in the United States, while about 388 million pounds were produced in Canada. Our main cranberry producing states are Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Cranberries are also grown in New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
Cranberries are grown on very low-lying vines that thrive on a combination of peat-based sandy soil and wet conditions. The area where cranberries grow is usually referred to as a “bog” or “marsh.” Wetland habitats are places where cranberries naturally grow. They usually take 16 months to fully mature. They are often planted in late spring or summer and mature during the fall of their second year.
Cranberries are closely related to blueberries, with both fruit belonging to the Ericaceae family of plants. The two berries have similar properties, yet unique benefits as well. We may see white and red cranberries in the grocery store. They are actually the same variety, with the white ones having been harvested about two to four weeks early. The white cranberries are milder and less tart in flavor than the red ones, but they lack some of the healthful phytonutrients that generate the red color in the more mature berries. The color of the mature berries can range from pale red to crimson to scarlet to deep purple.
Most of the cranberries grown in the United States are processed into juice, dried, or made into sauce. Only five percent are sold fresh. Due to their sharp, sour flavor, fresh cranberries are rarely eaten raw and unflavored.
Cranberries provide an array of vitamins, minerals and other compounds that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Among other nutrients, cranberries are a good source of Vitamins C, E, and K, along with pantothenic acid, manganese, copper, and fiber. One cup of cranberries has a mere 46 calories.
For the greatest nutritional value, use your cranberries when fresh and uncooked. Many of their nutrients are lost during the cooking process, especially when heated to 350°F or above.
Cranberries have long been known for their benefit against urinary tract infections. Historically, Native Americans are known to have used cranberries as a treatment for bladder and kidney diseases. Compounds in cranberries prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the bladder. As reported in an article at https://www.webmd.com, scientists have found that this effect can be seen within eight hours of drinking cranberry juice.
Also, some scientific evidence suggests that cranberries may reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease by preventing platelet build-up and reducing blood pressure. They may also reduce the risk of cancer by slowing tumor progression, and protect dental health by preventing bacteria from adhering to teeth and helping to protect against gum disease.
How to Select Cranberries
Fresh cranberries are usually harvested between mid-September and mid-November, so the freshest berries would be found during this time frame.
Look for fresh, plump, brightly colored berries that are firm to the touch. Firmness is a prime indicator of freshness when shopping for cranberries. The richer the color, the higher is their phytonutrient (anthocyanin and proanthocyanidin) content.
How to Store Cranberries
Before storing your cranberries, pick through them, removing any that are soft, discolored, pitted, or shriveled. Store them in the refrigerator (unwashed) until you are ready to use them. Fresh, ripe cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
How to Preserve Cranberries
Fresh cranberries may easily be frozen for later use. Simply place your washed and drained berries on a tray. Place them in the freezer. When the berries are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag, label the bag and return them to the freezer. Cranberries will keep for 6 to 12 months in the freezer. Once they are thawed, they should be used immediately.
Cranberries can be purchased dried, but they are usually sweetened during their processing, and many of them were also coated with oil. The added sugar and oil greatly increases the calorie content of the cranberries. Furthermore, some people need to avoid added oils and sugars in their foods. Some producers do dehydrate cranberries without added sugars and oils, so know what you’re wanting when you shop and read labels carefully. If you have a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer’s directions for drying your own cranberries.
Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned vs Dried vs Juiced
Fresh cranberries are found only during the fall months when they are harvested. They are relatively inexpensive, so if you use a lot of cranberries, it’s wise to stock up during this time and freeze or dry some for later use. As with so many foods, regarding nutritional aspects, fresh is best.
Frozen cranberries can be found in some grocery stores. They can be used in many recipes calling for fresh cranberries, however their texture may be softer when thawed then when fresh. Usually frozen cranberries are added to smoothies or cooked foods calling for the berries.
Canned cranberries are usually found as cranberry sauce, whether it be whole berry or the jelly variety. Canned cranberry sauce is delicious, but heavily sweetened. So, if you’re monitoring your added sugar intake, this option may not be the best for you.
Dried cranberries can be found in most grocery stores. However, most of them are heavily sweetened and they often also have oil added to them. All this makes them taste pleasant, masking the natural tartness of the cranberries. You’ll need to shop around if you’re looking for dried cranberries without the additives. Some companies do offer them dried without added sugar or oil, but not many. If your local grocery stores does not carry them, they can be found online.
Cranberry juice is found in most grocery stores. It is often blended with sweeteners and sometimes other liquids to reduce the tartness of the cranberries. One-hundred percent juice varieties are now available; however, they are a blend of a number of different fruit juices including cranberry juice. Such juices may have no added sugars, but the concentration of fruit juice makes them high in naturally occurring sugars. Again, if your diet calls for sugar restriction, such juices may not be the best for you. Some stores do carry 100% cranberry juice, without added sweeteners or other juices to mask the tartness of the cranberries. So, if you’re opting for cranberry juice, read labels carefully to be sure you purchase the type of juice you’re looking for.
How to Prepare Cranberries
Cranberries should be stored unwashed in the refrigerator. Wash them just prior to being used. Place the cranberries in a strainer and give them a quick rinse under cool, running water. Allow them to drain, then use them as desired.
When using frozen cranberries that will not be cooked, thaw them well and allow them to drain before being used. If you’ll be cooking your frozen cranberries, simply use them in the frozen state for the best flavor. Note that this may increase your cooking time somewhat.
Fresh or dried cranberries are often used in many sweet and savory foods, baked goods, salads, relishes, snacks, and dishes from breakfast to suppertime desserts, especially during the fall months when they’re in season. In addition to the numerous suggested recipes listed below, the following are some quick ideas for using cranberries. Enjoy!
* Add some frozen cranberries to your favorite smoothie.
* Add some fresh cranberries when you juice vegetables for a healthful addition.
* Add some cranberries, whether fresh or dried, when you’re making your favorite quick bread, muffins, cookies, and even pancakes.
* Add some cranberries to the pot when you cook your favorite grain. This would work well with rice, quinoa, wild rice, millet, and buckwheat.
* Make a simple cranberry jam by mixing ground cranberries with a small amount of maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, or even other fruits like apples, oranges, pears, pineapple, and/or pomegranates.
* Make a savory cranberry chutney by mixing ground cranberries with onions, garlic, ginger, and apple cider vinegar.
Here are some quick ideas for using cranberries as provided by The World’s Healthiest Foods website at http://www.whfoods.com
* Take advantage of cranberries’ tartness by using them to replace vinegar or lemon when dressing your green salads. Toss the greens with a little olive oil and then add color and zest with a handful of raw cranberries.
* To balance their extreme tartness, combine fresh cranberries with other fruits such as oranges, apples, pineapple or pears. If desired, add a little fruit juice, honey or maple syrup to chopped fresh cranberries.
* For an easy-to-make salad that will immediately become a holiday favorite, place 2 cups fresh berries in your blender along with 1/2 cup of pineapple chunks, a quartered skinned orange, a sweet apple (such as one of the Delicious variety) and a handful or two of walnuts or pecans. Blend till well mixed but still chunky. Transfer to a large bowl. Dice 3-4 stalks of celery, add to the cranberry mixture and stir till just combined.
* 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 appeal, garnish with a slice of lime.
* Add color and variety to your favorite recipes for rice pudding, quick breads or muffins by using dried unsweetened cranberries instead of raisins.
* Sprinkle a handful of dried unsweetened cranberries over a bowl of hot oatmeal, barley, or any cold cereal.
* Mix dried unsweetened cranberries with lightly roasted and salted nuts for a delicious snack.
Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Cranberries (Fresh and Dried)
Allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mint, nutmeg, pepper (black), salt, vanilla
Other Foods That Go Well With Cranberries (Fresh and Dried)
Proteins, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, almond butter, chestnuts, chicken, hazelnuts, nuts (in general), pecans, pork, pumpkin seeds, turkey, veal, walnuts
Vegetables: Arugula, beets, Brussels sprouts, chiles (jalapeño or serrano), kale, onions, pumpkin, squash (winter, esp. butternut), salad greens, spinach, sweet potatoes
Fruit: Apples, apple cider, apple juice, apricots, currants, dates, figs, lemon, lime, orange, pears, persimmons, pineapples, pomegranates, raisins, raspberries, tangerines, watermelon
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (soft), milk, yogurt
Grains: Bread crumbs, corn (popcorn), cornmeal, farro, oats, quinoa, rice (esp. brown, wild), wheat
Other: Agave nectar, caramel, honey, maple syrup, miso, sugar, vinegar (esp. balsamic), vodka, wine (esp. port)
Cranberries have been used in…
American cuisine, baked goods (esp. breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, quick breads, scones), cereals (esp. hot), cobblers, compotes, crisps, drinks (cocktails, juices, punches), granola, muesli, pancakes, pilafs, puddings (esp. bread, rice), relishes, salad dressings, salads (esp. grain, green), salsas, sauces (cranberry), sorbets, soup (fruit), stuffings (corn bread), trail mixes
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Cranberries
Combine fresh cranberries with…
Apples + oranges
Apples + raisins
Balsamic vinegar + ginger + honey + miso + orange
Brown sugar + lime + oranges + walnuts
Cinnamon + ginger + oranges + vanilla + walnuts
Cloves + ginger + oranges
Dates + orange
Maple syrup + vanilla
Nuts + wild rice
Oatmeal + walnuts
Oranges + pears + pecans
Combine dried cranberries with…
Grains (i.e. couscous, oats, quinoa, wild rice) + nuts (i.e. almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts)
Oats + vanilla
Orange zest + wild rice
Pears + pecans
Pecans (or walnuts) + wild rice
Holiday Cranberry Relish http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=324
Perfect Oatmeal http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=107
Cranberry Sauce http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=155
40 Best Cranberry Recipes for All Your Fall Meals https://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/g909/cranberry-recipes/
50 Things to Make With Cranberries https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/articles/50-things-to-make-with-cranberries
16 Savory and Sweet Recipes to Make with Fresh Cranberries https://www.delish.com/holiday-recipes/thanksgiving/g309/fresh-cranberries/
Cranberry and Cilantro Quinoa Salad https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/217051/cranberry-and-cilantro-quinoa-salad/?internalSource=streams&referringId=1049&referringContentType=Recipe%20Hub&clickId=st_recipes_mades
Jamie’s Cranberry Spinach Salad https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/14469/jamies-cranberry-spinach-salad/?internalSource=hub%20recipe&referringId=1049&referringContentType=Recipe%20Hub&clickId=cardslot%207
10 Things to Do With Fresh Cranberries https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/article/10-things-to-do-with-fresh-cranberries
28 Mouthwatering Cranberry Recipes https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/article/10-things-to-do-with-fresh-cranberries
25 Sweet and Savory Cranberry Recipes That Go Beyond the Sauce https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/thanksgiving-ideas/g22854655/cranberry-recipes/
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Cranberry Salsa and Blue Cheese Cranberry Scones https://www.uscranberries.com/recipes/roasted-butternut-squash-soup-w-cranberry-salsa-blue-cheese-cranberry-scones/
Cranberry Gingerbread Cupcakes https://www.uscranberries.com/recipes/cranberry-gingerbread-cupcakes/
Roasted Cranberry, Wild Rice and Kale Salad https://www.uscranberries.com/recipes/roasted-cranberry-wild-rice-and-kale-salad/
Cranberry Crisp https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/cranberry-crisp/
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.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.