The cranberry is a scarlet red, very tart and glossy berry. Cranberries can be found growing wild in northern Europe, northern Asia, and North America. When cultivated they are grown on trailing vines atop sandy bogs.
They are also sometimes referred to as "bounceberries," because the ripe ones bounce. The term cranberries however, probably came from the word "craneberries," a poetic allusion to the fact that their pink blossoms look a bit like the heads of the cranes that are found in cranberry bogs. The American cranberry which is cultivated in the northern United States and southern Canada is a larger berry than the Southern cranberry, which is a wild species native to eastern United States, or the European variety.
Cranberries are very popular in Nordic countries and Russia and have been eaten by the people of the Arctic from time immemorial. Native Americans of North America were the first to recognise the cranberry as a source of food. They introduced the cranberry to starving English settlers in Massachusetts around 1620, who later incorporated the berry into Thanksgiving.
Cranberries have the ability to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. Cranberry juice contains an antibacterial agent called hippuric acid, and also other compounds that reduce the ability of E. coli bacteria to adhere to the walls of the urinary tract. However, there is no evidence to show that cranberry juice is able to cure a bladder infection that is already established. In such a case it is best to seek medical advice as this could lead to serious kidney infection.
Studies have shown that a phytonutrient isolated from cranberries is effective against the herpes simplex virus (HSV-2), the cause of genital herpes. An antiviral compound found in cranberries, proanthocyanidin A-1, inhibits the attachment and penetration of the herpes virus.
Studies also found that cranberries contain compounds that inhibit the growth of common food borne pathogens including Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli.
Another study indicated that cranberry juice prevents the bacterium responsible for most gastric ulcers, Helicobacter pylori, from adhering to the lining of the stomach.
Studies also reveal that compounds found in cranberry juice are effective in decreasing the salivary level of Streptococus mutans, the major cause of tooth decay.
Cranberries also contain quinic acid, a compound that is not broken down in the body but is excreted unchanged in the urine. The presence of quinic acid causes the urine to become just acidic enough to prevent calcium and phosphate ions from joining to form insoluble stones.
Cranberries can also decrease levels of total cholesterol and LDL (low density or "bad" cholesterol). Cranberries reduce the risk of developing heart disease by improving HDL cholesterol levels.
Research shows that compounds in cranberries are toxic to a variety of cancer tumor cell lines, including lung, cervical, prostate, breast and leukemia cancer cells. .
Drinking excessive amounts of juice could cause gastrointestinal upset or diarrhea.
Selecting and storing
- Select berries are plump and firm and deep red in color. The deeper the red, the more highly concentrated the beneficial anthocyanin compounds found in cranberries.
- Store fresh cranberries in the refrigerator after removing any soft, discoloured or shrivelled fruit.
- Frozen cranberries can be kept for several years. To freeze them spread them on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. After a few hours transfer the frozen berries into airtight bags or containers. This will prevent them from sticking to each other.
- Once thawed, the berries should be used immediately.
- Make a salad by tossing the greens with a little olive oil and a handful of cranberries instead of lemon or vinegar.
- Combine fresh cranberries with sweeter fruits such as oranges, apples, pineapple or pears.
- Combine unsweetened cranberry in equal parts with your favorite fruit juice. Garnish with a slice of lime.
- Add cranberry juice to iced tea
- Use dried cranberries in place of raisins in recipes.
- Top vanilla ice cream with cranberry sauce.
- Use cranberry sauce on top of pancakes.
- Sprinkle a handful of dried cranberries over your breakfast cereal.
- Drizzle dried cranberries with melted chocolate.
Cranberry Lip Balm Recipe: A lip balm made by taking 8-10 fresh cranberries and microwaving them with a tablespoon of almond oil, a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of Vitamin E oil for two minutes. The mixture should be stirred well and crushed, then passed through a sieve when slightly cool. Set aside to cool and transfer to a clean container.