The numbers are still coming in from around the country, but ideal growing weather is resulting in one of the best crops of berries of all kinds in recent history. The fruits are beautiful and plentiful and, as a result, prices are attractive – and berries are showing up in many new food product applications.
“We expect this to be the largest cherry crop in the last 40 years,” says Brent Bradley, vice president of sales and marketing at Graceland Fruit Inc. (www.gracelandfruit.com), a Frankfort, Mich., supplier of infused dried fruits and vegetables. “The weather has been ideal in the major growing regions, specifically northwest Michigan, where the largest portion of the crop is produced.”
The blueberry crop is at an all time high of 432.2 million lbs. for 2009, according to Thomas Payne, spokesman for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (www.blueberry.org). “At the same time the portion of the crop that goes to freezing is down slightly. The reason is the fresh market is extremely strong [so] demand has switched some production to this area.”
Still he says, there are plenty of supplies for food processors. “In July and August, we saw extraordinary movement of blueberries, including launches of a number of new blueberry products as manufacturers capitalize on the positive image of blueberries and reasonable price compared to years past.
Bradley claims blueberry prices “have dropped to nearly half of what they were just three years ago.” Although cranberries are yet to be harvested and USDA is projecting slightly less than last year’s record crop, “It likely will be one of the largest crops of cranberries during the last 20 years,” Bradley continues. “The growing region has been expanded, predominantly in Wisconsin, where significant additional acreage has been added. The northeast region, however, is expected to be down dramatically due to exhausted vines and cool, wet weather during pollination season. Cranberry pricing has softened over the past year, and we anticipate that it will stabilize at current levels.”
“Overall, fruit prices are coming down and we’re seeing progressive research and development work,” Bradley continues. “We are hoping to develop new products across the board to take advantage of reduced prices and abundant crops.” On that note, Graceland Fruit added a dryer this spring, increasing the company’s capacity by 40 percent.
One of the biggest selling points of berries is their across-the-board high level of antioxidants. The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale developed by USDA and Tufts University is a measure of both time and degree of free-radical inhibition by certain foods and spices (spices are especially high in ORAC value). The antioxidant capacity measures are estimated by ferric reducing power, and are expressed as micromole Trolox equivalent (TE) per 100 grams (µTE/100 g).
Wild blueberries have a score of 13,427, higher than domesticated ones. Some other scores follow.
The absorption of antioxidants is another matter; it all depends bioavailability. “Bioavailability has to do with absorption or metabolism in the gut,” explains Ronald Prior, a chemist and nutritionist with the USDA’s Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Ark. “What’s absorbed will be impacted by the mechanical structure of different antioxidants in food -- if they’re tied up with fiber or if they have sugar molecules attached.” He told WebMD that by mildly steaming blueberries, for example, the antioxidant level was enhanced, making more antioxidants available to the body.
Red, black and blue
Bright and bold blueberries combine the best nature has to offer: nutrients and luscious flavor. Their natural ORAC score is 2,400. With 80 calories per cup, blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C. In fact, a serving contains about 14mg or almost 25 percent of the recommended daily value (DV).
Blueberries are a good source of dietary fiber, an excellent source of manganese and polyphenols -- specifically anthocyanins, which give blueberries their blue hue and help neutralize free radicals.
Red raspberries rank in the top 10 antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and they provide important anti-inflammatories, including anthocyanins (the pigments in red, purple and blue fruits), which may help reduce cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, macular degeneration and improve memory. Their ORAC score is 1,220.
With only 70 calories, one serving (1 cup) provides 50 percent of a day’s requirement for vitamin C, 32 percent of fiber, 6 percent of folate and magnesium, 5 percent of potassium and 4 percent of calcium, niacin, B6 and phosphorus, plus a touch of zinc.
One of the most exciting developments is that red raspberries, especially the seeds, may become important in the booming cosmeceuticals market (skin care products with health benefits), according to the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, Lynden, Wash. The oil in raspberry seeds is rich in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids and has a natural SPF (sun protection factor) of 25 to 50.
Blackberries are a top fruit source of fiber, an excellent source of vitamin C and are jam-packed with antioxidant phytonutrients that help promote heart health. Harvard and University of North Carolina researchers found that for each 10g of fruit fiber eaten per day (blackberries provide 7g), you may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease death by 30 percent.
Prescribed to cure scurvy in the past, blackberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps protect against infections, cancers and aging. At 75 calories, one cup (144g) is an excellent source of vitamin E, which is beneficial for the heart and circulatory problems. A good source of potassium, manganese and folate, blackberries also contain the soluble fiber pectin, which helps to eliminate cholesterol and protects against environmental toxins.