The tangy flavour of cranberries makes them an original ingredient to add to sauces and dressings. Filled with antioxidants, its refreshing juice prevents urinary tract infections and the onset of several diseases.
The benefits of cranberries
Urinary tract infections. Consuming cranberry juice or taking cranberry tablets would be particularly effective in women to prevent urinary tract infections. However, to date, no study has been able to demonstrate that consuming cranberry juice or other cranberry products can cure urinary tract infections (see our Urinary tract infections fact sheet).
To find out the recommended doses for people prone to urinary tract infections, consult our Cranberry (psn) fact sheet in the natural health products section.
Before it turns red, cranberries are white. If picked at this time, it produces a colourless juice. It is slightly less acidic than red, but would have about the same nutritional value and total antioxidant power. However, we don’t know if it provides all the health benefits of red cranberry juice.
Gastrointestinal disorders. Studies indicate that regular consumption of cranberry juice may prevent Helicobacter pylori infections in the stomach. This bacterium is a cause of several stomach problems, including chronic gastritis and gastric and duodenal ulcers. Adding cranberry juice to a conventional treatment would be more effective in eradicating the bacterium.
Dental health. Consumption of cranberry and its various compounds would reduce the formation of plaque, tooth decay and periodontal disease. However, most commercial juices on the market are high in sugar and high in acidity. Therefore, they are not beneficial in terms of oral hygiene16.
Various compounds isolated from cranberries could be used as supplements to improve oral health. Flavonols and proanthocyanidins extracted from cranberries have been shown to inhibit the production of acid by a bacterium involved in the development of tooth decay (Streptococcus mutan) and to reduce the formation of the dental biofilm that causes plaque.
Cardiovascular disease. Several studies indicate that the consumption of flavonoids in food and beverages may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis5, a process leading to the development of cardiovascular disease. In vitro research shows that flavonoids extracted from cranberries may prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol) as well as the aggregation of blood platelets, markers related to cardiovascular disease.
In addition, cranberry juice consumption would increase HDL (good cholesterol). Consumed at a rate of 500 ml (2 cups) per day, the low calorie cranberry cocktail would significantly reduce blood pressure Cancer. Several epidemiological studies show that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of certain cancers. In vitro studies show that cranberry extracts and compounds can inhibit the growth and proliferation of different types of cancer, including breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer.
Neuronal protection and Alzheimer’s disease. Cranberries, like blueberries, have been associated with protective effects on neurons (nerve cells). Animal studies indicate that eating several berries may inhibit or reverse the loss of communication between brain cells. It may also prevent certain age-related impairments that can affect various motor and cognitive aspects. In addition, the consumption of fruit and vegetable juices, particularly cranberry, blueberry and blueberry extracts may have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease.
What’s in cranberries?
Antioxidant compounds are reported to be more abundant in dried cranberries than in fresh cranberries because of the concentration associated with drying. However, they would retain the same properties. However, since their added sugar content is often high, it is better to consume them in moderate quantities.
The antioxidant capacity of cranberries is now unanimously recognized by the scientific community. After blueberries, it is the fruit with the best antioxidant activity, with values higher than those of many fruits such as apples, red grapes, strawberries, grapefruit and peaches.
Flavonoids. Cranberries contain different types of flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that help neutralize the body’s free radicals and thus prevent the development of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and various diseases related to aging. The 3 main classes of flavonoids in cranberries are anthocyanins (which give the red colour), flavonols and proanthocyanins. The latter are also believed to prevent the adhesion of the E. coli bacteria that cause infections to the walls of the urinary tract.
Resveratrol. Cranberries contain resveratrol, a polyphenol of the stilbene class. Although the antioxidant activity of resveratrol in red wine is well documented, little research has been done on this active compound in cranberries. One study found that the concentration of resveratrol in cranberry juice is comparable to that in grape juice.
Ursolic acid. Cranberries contain ursolic acid, a molecule of the triterpene class. This molecule is believed to have anticancer potential by inhibiting the proliferation of certain types of cancer cells (liver and breast).
In 2009, the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency highlighted the possible interaction between warfarin (an anticoagulant marketed as Coumadin®) and cranberry juice. In vitro, cranberry juice has been shown to increase the anticoagulant effect of the drug and cause bleeding. More recent studies, however, question the conclusions of previous clinical studies.
Although the evidence showing an interaction between cranberry juice and warfarin is weak, it is still suggested that patients taking warfarin, or any other anticoagulant, be cautioned and limit or avoid consumption of cranberry products.
Recipe ideas with cranberries
Don’t hesitate to add cranberries to fruit and vegetable salads: for example, with apples and celeriac; with lamb’s lettuce and sweet onions; with dandelions and duck breast; with endive and walnuts, and so on.
Sauce: simply simmer with a little honey in butter; if desired, flambé with cognac or rum.
The juice can be used in vinaigrettes, to deglaze a pan, to prepare carrots or glazed onions, in sherbets and ice cream.
Cranberries are also good in coulis, sauces, chutneys or compotes. Use honey or maple syrup instead of refined sugar, reducing the proportions recommended in recipes. Or mix cranberries with other sweeter fruits. You can also use them in clafoutis with plums or cherries, or dip them in hot chocolate with other fondue fruits.
Garnish your pancakes with a sauce composed of dried cranberries, orange juice and maple syrup that you have simmered for about 20 minutes in a little butter.
Dried Cranberry Sauce
Soak raisins and dried apricots and dried cranberries in warm water. Sauté chopped onion or shallots and garlic, add pieces of walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds or any other oilseed of your choice (pumpkin or sunflower seeds), dried fruit and a little water or wine. Cook until the liquid has evaporated. Serve with poached or baked fish.
Use dried cranberries instead of raisins in muffins, bread mixes, cookies, etc. Add them to muesli or other granola-type preparations, couscous or tagines.
Poultry stuffing: Sauté chopped onion and pine nuts in a skillet; add fresh or frozen cranberries and apples. Simmer for a few minutes, then add cooked wild rice and season with herbs of your choice. Stuff the chicken with this mixture.
Crab with Orange, Cranberry and Hazelnut: Cook cranberries in a little water until they pop. Melt butter, add the crab pieces, diced avocado, hazelnuts, orange segments, orange juice and cranberries. Cook for a few minutes and serve over rice or short pasta.
Choosing and storing
Because of the berry’s tangy flavour, sugar (glucose, fructose) is often added to cranberry products. It is therefore essential to read the label to ensure that the product contains as little or no sugar as possible. Cranberry cocktails generally contain more water than juice, and it is not uncommon to add artificial flavours and colours to cranberry cocktails. From a nutritional point of view, it’s best to buy the pure juice or concentrate and measure the amount of water you want to add yourself.
Refrigerator. Fresh berries can be kept for a few weeks and even months in the refrigerator, which is quite exceptional for a small fruit.
Freezer. Freeze them individually on a metal plate, then bag them and put them back in the freezer. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to add sugar before freezing them.
The little story of the cranberry
Common names: cranberry, atoca, cranberry.
Scientific name: Vaccinium macrocarpon (Oxycoccus macrocarpus, Oxycoccus spp.).
The term “cranberry” appeared in the French language in 1665. Its origin is uncertain. It could derive from the English cranberry, the name given to the plant by the pioneers of New England in allusion to its port, which is reminiscent of the crane (crane). The term “atoca,” derived from the Iroquoian, appeared in 1632. It was therefore, for a time, the official name for the plant.
Depending on the country, region and species, cranberries have different names: pomme des prés in the Magdalen Islands, atoca or ataca in the rest of Quebec, and lingonberry or field pea in Europe. “Fagne” is a word of Walloon origin that means muddy marsh, where cranberries often grow.
Native to the acidic bogs of eastern North America, cranberries have been consumed by various Amerindian nations since time immemorial. The Amerindians picked the berries from August until late fall, even during winter and early spring. Some of the fruit was eaten fresh and the rest was set aside for the winter. They were kept in baskets of birch bark or peat moss. They were also steamed or mixed with fat, or dried, sometimes with deer meat. Cranberries were used in traditional pemmican (a traditional Native American food made from dried meat, fat and dried fruit) or to accompany smoked fish.
In western America, where other species grew wild, cranberries were traded to some extent. Native Americans harvested large quantities of cranberries to sell at the market.
At least one species is found in northern Asia and Europe, but only V. macrocorpon is grown commercially worldwide. The first commercial exploitation began in Massachusetts in 1816. It was not until the 1930s that a Quebec producer became interested in the species. Today, production covers more than 16,000 hectares in the northern United States and Canada (Quebec, the Maritimes and British Columbia), the two main producing countries. Cranberries are also grown marginally in a few European countries, including Belarus and Ukraine.
For saltwater sailors
From the 17th to the 19th century, cranberries were widely consumed by sailors in eastern North America. They found that those who ate them did not suffer from scurvy. It was understood much later that this was due to the small berry’s high vitamin C content.
Traditionally in North America, cranberries were only eaten on Thanksgiving and during the holiday season as a sauce to accompany the inevitable turkey. However, since the late 1950’s, cranberry juice has gradually become a staple, to the point where today, about 80% of production is devoted to cranberry juice.
Cranberries are closely related to North American blueberries, European blueberries, mountain cranberries from Mount Ida (Island of Crete) and various other berries of the genus Vaccinium. All these plants have in common that they are dwarf and creeping, grow in acidic soils and produce berries that are particularly rich in antioxidants. This explains their current popularity with health-conscious people.
Fresh berries are only available in season (September to December). Juice, concentrates, frozen berries and dried berries, some of which are flavoured with maple syrup, are also available commercially. There are also a few specialty products such as mustard and cranberry cider vinegar, as well as mixed infusions with cranberry.
Cranberries can be grown in the home garden, but it is essential that the soil be acidic (pH around 4.5). In most cases, this requires artificial acidification, either by adding a good amount of peat moss to the planting hole or by amending with elemental sulphur or acidic fertilizers. In addition, a lot of water must be available, on the one hand for irrigating the plants, and on the other hand to protect them from severe cold (water limits the harmful effects of frost, as well as its drying action). On the other hand, unlike commercial crops, there is no need to flood the plants at harvest time, as this practice is strictly intended to facilitate mechanized harvesting, which takes advantage of the fact that the fruit floats.
The first harvest will take place 3 years after planting. Only harvest the fruit when it is a deep red-purple colour.
Ecology and environment
Cranberries are generally grown in bogs, which raises some environmental concerns.
These fragile environments are particularly vulnerable to the agricultural activities that take place there. The need to build ponds for this crop can lead to siltation of downstream streams. In addition, the use of large amounts of water for irrigation and flooding of cranberries at various stages of their growth necessarily affects the water table.
Residues of chemical fertilizers and pesticides also enter the environment when pond water is discharged, which can contaminate fish and other marine species. In addition, dykes designed to retain water can interfere with fish spawning habits. Finally, the discharge of water from ponds, which are at higher temperatures than rivers and streams, causes them to warm up, which can harm marine and aquatic life.
At present, these effects are relatively small, given the still small size of cranberry farms. In fact, urbanization and other forms of agriculture are thought to have a much greater impact on peatlands. On the positive side, cranberry bogs have been observed to support a diverse wildlife, including endangered species such as river otters, sandhill cranes, ducks, geese, bald eagles, foxes, and American mink, to name a few.
For their part, producers are gradually adopting practices that reduce the impact of this crop on the environment. For example, some are recuperating all drainage and irrigation water from their ponds so that they do not draw water from other sources (rivers in particular). Others are studying the movement of water in the soil to develop techniques to limit runoff. Finally, although still marginal, organic cultivation of the bay is growing, which can only have a positive effect on the environment.