Berry Of The Week: Blueberries

rotatslide-blueberriesWhenever I think of blueberries, I think of them as my mother’s favorite fruit. These small, blue berries are an amazing little fruit that contain many health benefits. The history of blueberries is as rich as the taste, so dive into a bowl of blueberries on a warm, summer evening as you read all about this week’s cool berry!

History of Blueberries

Blueberries are one of the few fruits native to North America. They are also one of the few naturally blue foods! 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. Parts of the blueberry plant were also used as medicine. A tea made from the leaves of the plant was thought to be good for the blood. Blueberry juice was used to treat coughs. 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. Blueberries were also used for medicinal purposes along with the leaves and roots. A beef jerky called Sautauthig (pronounced saw’-taw-teeg), was made with dried blueberries and meat and was consumed year round.

In the winter of 1620, the Pilgrims established a settlement at Plimoth (spelled Plymouth today). Many perished during the first few months, but those that survived went on to build homes and establish farms. Their neighbors, the Wampanoag Indians taught the settlers new skills that helped them survive. They showed them how to plant corn and how to gather and use native plants to supplement their food supply. One important native crop was blueberries! The colonists learned from Native Americans how to gather blueberries, dry them under the summer’s sun and store them for the winter. In time, blueberries became an important food source and were preserved, and later canned. A beverage made with blueberries was an important staple for Civil War Soldiers. In the 1880s a blueberry canning industry began in the Northeast USA.

Over the decades, plant breeders and pathologists have worked to identify and enhance the desirable features of various cultivars of highbush blueberries. For decades “cultivated” or “highbush” blueberries have been improved through natural selection and plant breeding programs to produce an optimal blueberry with desirable flavor, texture and color for fresh and processed markets. Cultivated varieties have been enhanced to offer magnificent plump berries with deep, rich color and a delicious fruity flavor. These plant breeding programs have resulted in the development of superior berries both for the consumer and the food processing industry. Our industry owes a great gratitude to the many agriculturalists in the USA and abroad who have pioneered the development of the world highbush blueberry industry!

North America is the world’s leading blueberry producer, accounting for nearly 90% of world production at the present time. The North American harvest runs from mid-April through early October, with peak harvest in July which is also known as National Blueberry Month. Highbush blueberries are perennial, long-lived, deciduous, woody shrubs. They belong to the family Ericaceae, which also includes such plants as cranberry, azalea, rhododendron, and heather. Like the other ericaceous plants, blueberries thrive in acid soils and do best in soils with a pH between 4 and 5. Cultivars require from 120 to 160 growing degree days to ripen fruit. Blueberry plants flower in spring, with flowers at the tip of canes and the tip of the cluster opening first.

Where Can I Buy Blueberries?

Pick up blueberries at any local grocery store. To find the healthiest blueberries, head to your local Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s for the organic choice.

Where Are They Grown Locally?

Check out this website, Local Difference, for tons of farms that offer blueberry picking or simply sell delicious blueberries.

Organic vs. Conventional

So should you buy those conventional blueberries at your local Meijer or head to a Whole Foods Market to get organic?

Growing conventional blueberries involves using methyl bromide as a pre-plant fumigant for soil. Methyl bromide is a toxic chemical that has resulted in harmful side-effects to farm workers.

We recommend choosing the safe option and picking organic blueberries. They are a bit more expensive, but if you care about our planet and your health, it is the right choice. Organic blueberries use less non-renewable resources, eliminate the use of toxic chemicals that harm our environment and health of farmers, conserves resources, and values health.

If you simply can’t afford to choose all organic fruits and vegetables, be sure to clean your fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating. Scrub using a vegetable brush, soak in either salt water or vinegar, and peel the skin off whenever possible.

Nutritional Benefits

Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C. In fact, a serving contains about 14 mg or almost 25% of daily requirement for Vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed for the formation of collagen and to maintain healthy gums and capillaries. It also aids in the absorption of iron and promotes a healthy immune system.

Blueberries are a good source of dietary fiber. Government surveys tell us that there is not enough fiber in our diet. A diet high in fiber contributes to heart health, helping to keep cholesterol in check. Fiber also aids in digestions and helps maintain regularity.

Blueberries are an excellent source of manganese. Manganese plays an important role in the development of bones and in the metabolism of protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Blueberries contain substances that have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals which are unstable molecules linked to the development of a number of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s. According to the USDA database of the antioxidant activity of selected foods (ORAC values), blueberries rank among the highest on a per serving basis. The antioxidant capacity of blueberries is 6,552 micromoles TE/100g. Substances in blueberries called polyphenols, specifically anthocyanins that give blueberries their blue hue, are the major contributors to the antioxidant activity of blueberries.

Some Yummy & Healthy Recipes

Whole Wheat Blueberry Bars

15 bars

Active Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

CRUST

1 1/3 cups plus about 3 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

BLUEBERRY FILLING

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

PREPARATION

To make crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-by-12-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together 1 1/3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Beat together brown sugar, butter, oil, egg and vanilla in another large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until smooth, making sure no lumps of brown sugar remain, about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended. (The dough will be quite firm.)

Transfer two-thirds of the dough to the prepared baking dish; cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap and use it to press the dough into the bottom of the dish in an even layer. Remove the plastic wrap. Bake until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes.

To make the topping: Gradually work enough of the remaining 3 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour into the remaining dough using your fingertips, until it resembles coarse crumbs.

To make filling: Stir together sugar, all-purpose flour and lemon zest in a small bowl.

Combine blueberries and lemon juice in a medium saucepan; cook, stirring, over medium heat until the berries begin to exude juice. Add the sugar mixture and stir until the filling reaches a simmer and thickens.

Push down the higher outside edges of the baked crust with a wooden spoon; pour the hot filling over it and spread all the way to the sides of the dish. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the top. Bake until the topping is golden, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Transfer the baking dish to a rack and let cool, covered with a kitchen towel to soften the crumbs slightly. Cut into 15 bars. Dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar if using. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

NUTRITION

Per serving: 169 calories; 4 g fat ( 1 g sat , 1 g mono ); 18 mg cholesterol; 32 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 2 g fiber; 104 mg sodium; 22 mg potassium.

Carbohydrate Servings: 2

Exchanges: 2 other carbohydrate, 1 fat

Chicken & Blueberry Pasta Salad

6 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each

Active Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed of fat

8 ounces whole-wheat fusilli or radiatore

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

PREPARATION

Place chicken in a skillet or saucepan and add enough water to cover; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer gently until cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to cool. Shred into bite-size strips.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta until just tender, about 9 minutes or according to package directions. Drain. Place in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, place oil and shallot in a small skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown, 2 to 5 minutes. Add broth, feta and lime juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the feta begins to melt, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the chicken to the bowl with the pasta. Add the dressing, blueberries, thyme, lime zest and salt and toss until combined.

TIPS & NOTES

Make Ahead Tip: Add everything except the blueberries and dressing to the pasta salad. Cover and refrigerate pasta salad, blueberries and dressing separately for up to 1 day. Toss together just before serving.

NUTRITION

Per serving: 315 calories; 11 g fat ( 3 g sat , 6 g mono ); 49 mg cholesterol; 33 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 23 g protein; 5 g fiber; 238 mg sodium; 207 mg potassium.

Nutrition Bonus: Selenium (60% daily value), Fiber (20% dv).

Carbohydrate Servings: 2

Exchanges: 2 starch, 2 very lean meat, 2 fat

Blueberry-Ricotta Pancakes

4 servings, 2 pancakes each

Active Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour, (see Source)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk, (see Tip)

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons canola oil, divided

3/4 cup fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries

PREPARATION

Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg in a small bowl. Whisk ricotta, egg, egg white, buttermilk, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl until smooth. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined.

Brush a large nonstick skillet with 1/2 teaspoon oil and place over medium heat until hot. Using a generous 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake, pour the batter for 2 pancakes into the pan, sprinkle blueberries on each pancake and cook until the edges are dry and bubbles begin to form, about 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Repeat with the remaining oil, batter and berries, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning.

TIPS & NOTES

Source: Look for whole-wheat pastry flour in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets and natural-foods stores. Sources include King Arthur Flour, (800) 827-6836, www.bakerscatalogue.com, and Bob’s Red Mill, (800) 349-2173, www.bobsredmill.com.

Tip: No buttermilk? Mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice into 1 cup milk.

NUTRITION

Per serving: 238 calories; 8 g fat ( 3 g sat , 3 g mono ); 68 mg cholesterol; 30 g carbohydrates; 12 g protein; 3 g fiber; 334 mg sodium; 128 mg potassium.

Nutrition Bonus: Selenium (24% daily value), Calcium (16% dv).

Carbohydrate Servings: 2

Exchanges: 2 starch, 1 medium-fat meat

Information courtesy of Blueberries.org, Blueberrycouncil.org, and recipes courtesy of Eating Well.

You may also like:

Go Organic, Even on a Budget

Strawberries

Raspberries

To read more from Lauren, check out Lauren’s Thoughts!

© Copyright 2011  Allison Stuart Kaplan  www.Askinyourface.com LLC

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Comments

  1. Great info about my favorite berry – Blueberry! My son is actually heading up a research project at MSU to grow organic blueberries all year round! Wouldn’t that be awesome. The state of MI. is funding the project!

  2. Yes, I agree, and because I am never without blueberries; I eat them in my morning oatmeal and just group a bunch whenever I think of it, this was a great source of information. Allison, I would love to know how your son’s project works out.
    Wonderful recipes, too.

  3. Yes, they are my favorite! I just picked about 4 lbs in North Carolina on vacation – now I can have some whenever I want. :)

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