Blueberries

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Blueberries
The blueberry of the genus Vaccinium, is a native American species. In fact the blueberry is one of the few fruits native to North America. For centuries, blueberries were gathered from the forests and the bogs by Native Americans and consumed fresh and also preserved. The Northeast Native American tribes revered blueberries and much folklore developed around them. The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; the elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent "star berries" to relieve the children's hunger during a famine. The juice also made an excellent dye for baskets and cloth. In food preparation, dried blueberries were added to stews, soups and meats. The dried berries were also crushed into a powder and rubbed into meat for flavor.

Today they are grown mostly in Northern United States and Canada. Some can be found grown in Northern Europe and Australia. There are many varieties of blueberries that differ slightly in size and taste. They are grown mostly on low bushes but some of the blueberry bushes grow to be 6 to 7 feet tall. The berries are dark blue in color and have a smooth outer skin that has a very thin, silver waxy coating that is called bloom. They have a sweet taste and contain soft seeds that do not need to be removed before eating the berries. Blueberries are commercially cultivated to satisfy demand but the best blueberries are the wild berries. Cultivated blueberries are 2 to 3 times larger than wild blueberries but are not as flavorful. They are in season from late spring to early fall.

Contents

Health

Blueberries were prominent in Russian folk medicine, used as a preventative measure and cure for flux and other abdominal problems.

Native Americans used blueberries for medicinal purposes along with the leaves and roots. A tea made from the leaves of the plant was thought to be good for the blood and it was used as a relaxant during childbirth. Blueberry juice was used to treat coughs. It is also high in iron.

During World War II, British Royal Air Force pilots consumed bilberries (a blueberry relative), which purportedly improved their night vision. Later studies show a sound basis for this practice because blueberries are high in bioflavonoids which are used by the rods in the eye for night vision.

Blueberries contain significant quantities of both antibacterial and antiviral compounds, and have a reputation in northern Europe of fighting infections. They may also help protect against heart disease.

The blueberry ranks as the number one fruit provider of antioxidants. Blueberries have been found to have one of the highest ORAC values of any food in the world. ORAC is a rating system for antioxidant power. Scientists look at how all the different phytochemicals and antioxidants in a given food perform together and then give an overall rating to the food based on its performance. One of the highest scorers of all time is blueberries. Blueberries are low in sugar. They're high in fiber. And research is constantly revealing their almost magical healing properties.

Nutritional value

Blueberries (1 cup) Calories Total Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Total Carbohydrates (g) Sugar (g) Vitamin A (%DV) Calcium (%DV) 100 1 0 27 11 0 0 Calories From Fat Saturated Fat (g) Sodium (mg) Dietary Fiber (g) Protein (g) Vitamin C (%DV) Iron (%DV) 10 0 0 3 1 15 0

Selection and Storage

Blueberries are available in many forms and sizes, including canned, dried, and pureed as well as fresh.

Fresh blueberries are in their prime from June through August. Select berries that are completely blue, with no tinge of red. That natural silver coating you see on blueberries is desirable as it is a natural protectant.

Blueberries must be ripe when purchased, as they do not continue to ripen after harvesting. Avoid soft, watery or moldy blueberries. Stained or leaking containers are an indication of fruit past its prime.

Keep blueberries refrigerated, unwashed, in a rigid container covered with clear wrap. They should last up to two weeks if they are freshly-picked. Water on fresh blueberries hastens deterioration, so do not wash before refrigerating, and avoid those at your grocer's that are exposed to those mist sprayers used to keep greens fresh. Blueberries are highly perishable so do try to use them as soon as possible.

Blueberries are an excellent candidate for freezing. After thawing, they are only slightly less bright and juicy as in their original harvest state. Do not wash them before freezing as the water will cause the skins to become tough. Rinse after thawing and before eating.

To freeze for future cooking, place the berries in a rigid covered container with one inch of space for expansion. If you plan on serving them in the future in their thawed, uncooked state, pack them in a syrup made of 4 cups water plus 3 cups sugar, seal and freeze. For crushed or pureed blueberries, add 1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar for each quart.

Frozen blueberries will keep for a year at 0 degrees F. Blueberries are also easily canned or dried at home.

Cooking

The berries can be eaten raw, but are also added to fruit salads, pancakes, waffles, muffins, cakes, breads, pies, ice cream, and yogurt or cooked in various desserts. They are also cooked up to make thick sweet toppings for desserts, such as crêpes and cheesecake. Blueberries can also be cooked with sugar syrup to produce jams and jellies.

Tips

  • When adding fresh blueberries to a batter that the berries have a tendency to drop to the bottom, such as in a cake batter, sprinkle the blueberries with flour before adding to the batter. The flour will help prevent them from dropping in the batter.
  • ?Then baking with blueberries, they should be the last ingredient added so that they do not get over mixed and begin to break up. Broken berries will cause streaking in the batter.
  • One pound of blueberries is equal to 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries. One pint is equal to 2 cups of berries. A 10-oz. package of frozen blueberries equals 1 1/2 cups.
  • When adding frozen blueberries to a batter, add them to the batter while they are still frozen to prevent them from bleeding into the batter.
  • When using canned blueberries, be sure to drain well and the pat thoroughly with paper towels to prevent blue streaking in your recipe.
  • Add a little lemon juice to blueberries to enhance their flavor.

References

  • Food Reference
  • Wild Blueberries
  • Strawberry Fields - Strawberry Recipes
  • Diet & Fitness