Fresh, Frozen or Concentrated: Tis the Season for Cranberries

Did you know that The American Cranberry is native to Michigan? While we are not the national leader in growing this fruit, our sandy soil, access to water and climate make them part of our fruit belt with major future growing potential.  When you follow the seasons to guide your meals and menu planning, it is no surprise that the cranberry is part of our nation’s traditions.

Cranberries have been well studied and contain a nice profile of promising nutritional and antibacterial benefits. They contain antioxidants and a unique phytonutrient called proanthocyanidin (PAC) which is responsible for giving it an “anti-sticking” property. This is why cranberries benefit urinary tract health by preventing pathogens from “sticking” around our cells. Nutritionally, they are low in calories, contain little sugar, and have dietary fiber.

Have you ever tried a raw cranberry? Cranberries are very tart and too acidic to eat without a little bit of processing with added sweetener, such as from other fruit juices or sugars. Even when sweetened to make more palatable, the health benefits of cranberries make them worth eating!

Cranberries are available all year long in dried or frozen forms, or as juice concentrates. Fresh Michigan cranberries are abundant throughout October and November. Choose cranberry products with the highest percentage of cranberry, for example 4 oz. 100% cranberry juice or ½ cup of dried cranberries is equivalent to a 1 cup fruit serving.  

When choosing a cranberry juice, be aware that many cranberry juice blends often use other juices as the primary sweeteners. While they are 100% fruit, they contain nearly the same amount of added sugars as cranberry juice cocktail blends and both contain about 25% cranberry juice.

The amount of sugar in dried cranberries is similar to dried grapes (raisins), and cherries, about 25grams per serving. Use dried cranberries with hot and cold cereals, yogurts, salads and nut mixes. Here is one of my favorite cranberry relish recipes from the Michigan Cranberry Company because you can use fresh local Michigan apples, cranberries and nuts while also controlling the amount of added sugar you may want to use.

Not only are these bright red beauties great in both savory and sweet recipes, but you can also use them to make a traditional holiday garland! TLD recommends 3 popcorn kernels to one round cranberry as the perfect ratio for the garland string. Next time you are at the store, consider getting some cranberries to brighten up your winter! 

Paula Martin, MS RDN, LDN  is our former TLD Community Health CoordinatorPaula is a registered dietitian nutritionist focusing on local food & public health. Contact her at [email protected]