Where and how it grows
Cranberries are a unique fruit. They are bright red berries that grow in damp bogs and swampy areas in the wild or can be cultivated on fields in certain areas. Cranberries can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors: They require an acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, sand, and a growing season that stretches from April to November including a dormancy period in the winter months that provides an extended chilling period that is necessary to mature fruiting buds.
Cranberries grow in the wild in the Nordic countries, for example in Finland, that has been ranked the fourth cleanest country in the world, and are especially rich in vitamins and antioxidants. They contain such a huge amount of nutrients due to the cleanness of nature and ideal growing conditions. The cranberries that grow in the wild are very precious and need to be carefully hand picked to make sure they stay in tact and preserve all of their nutrients. Dry picking is the best way to preserve the berries when they are meant to be eaten as fresh.
North America has been a huge grower of cranberries for years with Canada and the United States being leading growers, only small volume production occurs in South America and in Europe in the Netherlands.
Growing cranberries is a peculiar process. Water is essential in growing cranberries, but they are not grown in water. During winter and early spring, the fields are flooded with water to protect the plants from freezing. As the cranberries mature over summer, the plants are sprayed with water which brings needed water for plant growth and cool water keeps the vines from drying in the heat. In the autumn, the bogs are flooded again, ripe cranberries float to the surface and are corralled and harvested by workers. Wet-harvested cranberries are usually used for juice, sweetened dried cranberries or when added to other products.
Medicinal uses now and then
Cranberries are used in foods and in herbal products. Historically, cranberry fruits and leaves were used for a variety of problems, such as wounds, urinary disorders, diarrhea, diabetes, stomach ailments and liver problems. More recently, cranberries have been used as traditional remedy for example helicobacter pylori infections that can lead to stomach ulcers and to prevent dental plaque. Findings from a few laboratory studies support the claim that cranberry can help reduce dental plaque (a cause of gum disease).
Cranberries are virtually fat free and contain a good amount of dietary fibre that balances the gut and keeps you feeling full for longer. It's a good source of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol, which is the only form of vitamin E that benefits the human body) as well as good levels of vitamin C. Cranberries also contain a mineral called manganese, which the body needs to maintain a proper wound healing process as well as antioxidant functions. As cranberries are rich in antioxidants, they are often added to topical products that aim to help with various skin conditions – antioxidants protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. The body is exposed to free radicals from environmental exposure, such as air pollution, ultraviolet light from the sun as well as cigarette smoke. A diet rich in vitamin E may help protect against this damage.
Cranberries are well known for their bladder and urinary tract benefiting substances that may prevent infection-causing bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract walls. Several studies suggest that cranberries help to prevent urinary tract infections by preventing the bacteria from taking hold, but will not replace prescribed medication.
What's in them
When thinking about similar vitamin E and manganese rich foods to add to your diet, one can compare the likes of almonds or whole wheat bread based on their nutritional values. However, if you compare the amount of carbohydrates in each food you will find that both almonds and whole wheat bread, however good in nutritional values they are, you will find that they also pack a huge amount of carbohydrates in them as well. Almonds have about 22g carbohydrates (in 100g) and whole wheat bread approximately 43g (in 100g) whereas unsweetened cranberries have only 12g (in 100g).
When determining the dietary importance of a foodstuff, nutrients often are the only elements considered. In fact, there are other known food components called ‘non-nutrients’ that are of enormous interest with regard to health. In some cases they have important physiological properties and are therefore considered bioactive substances. These substances are named “phytochemicals” when they are found in plants. Among these phytochemicals some stand out because in addition to having beneficial properties, they give fruits and vegetables their colour.
In the case of the cranberry, the red colour is due to the amount of anthocyanins in them. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties that have been demonstrated in many studies. It has been suggested that they have an important role in preventing carcinogenesis and mutagenesis (carcinogenesis is the process in which normal cells turn into cancer cells and mutagenesis is a process by which the genetic information of an organism is changed in a stable manner, resulting in a mutation).
How to use them
If you find yourself pondering how to include more colours (fruits and vegetables) in your daily diet, try adding cranberries or cranberry powder to your meals, for example breakfast cereals or porridge. If you feel like experimenting a bit more, add some dried cranberries or cranberry powder on top of your vegetable soup at lunchtime. As cranberry is sour tasting, it goes along very well with surprising options like butternut squash, which in turn is sweet. To be sure you are getting your daily vitamins and five-a-day having a spoonful of powder or handful of cranberries takes you along nicely.
Adding food items of colour into your daily diet is highly recommended due to their nutrient content. It is safe to say that adding cranberries to your life will benefit your health as well as liven your taste and sense palate. So why not improve the appearance and nutrient load of the food you decide to enrich with the cranberry powder or other forms of this beautiful red berry.