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Cranberry health benefits nutrition facts cultivation harvest article

Botanical information about cranberries

The North American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon Aiton, is a member of the family Ericaceae that is composed of about 1350 species including Scotch Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.) and Blueberries (Vaccinium augustifolium, V. corymbosum). Cranberries are a low-growing, vining, woody perennial plant with small, alternate, ovate leaves. The plant produces stolons (runners or horizontal stems) up to 6 feet (2 m) long. Short vertical branches, or uprights, 2 to 8 inches (5 to 20 cm) in height, grow from buds on the stolons and these can be either vegetative or fruiting. Each fruiting upright may contain as many as seven flowers. Pollination is primarily via domestic honey bees.

The North American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is the fruit recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as the standard for fresh cranberries and the cranberry juice cocktail. The European variety, which is grown in parts of central Europe, Finland and Germany, is known as Vaccinium oxycoccus. This variety is a smaller fruit with anthocyanin pigment profiles similar to that of the North American variety. The European variety, however, has a different acid profile in terms of the percentages of quinic, malic and citric acid levels present. In Europe, this fruit is commonly known as English moss berry.

History of cranberries

The North American cranberry industry has a long and distinguished history. Native peoples used cranberries as food, in ceremonies and medicinally. They mixed cranberries with deer meat to make pemmican, a convenience food that could be kept for a long time. Medicine men used them as poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds, and women used the juice as a dye for cloth. In New Jersey, the Delaware Indians used them as peace symbols. They got their name, “crane berries,” from the early German and Dutch settlers who thought their blossoms resembled the neck and head of a crane.
Cranberry cultivation in New Jersey is believed to have begun in 1840. The State Board of Agriculture report of 1874 states that in 1840 a man by the name of John Webb established a cranberry bog in Ocean County near Cassville, and it is reported that he received $50.00 per barrel for his cranberries. They were bought by ship merchants who sold them to whalers. Cranberries were kept on board ships in barrels of cold water for the sailors to eat. They contained Vitamin C and helped ward off scurvy, which plagued seafarers on long trips. When Cranberry grower Elizabeth Lee of New Egypt decided to boil some damaged berries instead of throwing them away, she liked the tasty jelly so much she started a business selling “Bog Sweet Cranberry Sauce.”

Commercially-grown cranberries in the northern United States and southern Canada are somewhat larger than the wild varieties grown in the southern regions of the U.S. and throughout Europe. American Indians enjoyed preparing cranberries in ways similar to our present-day traditions: dried and sweetened with honey or maple syrup. Colonists found this bright little berry so prolific they began exporting them back home in the early 18th century.

Cultivation of cranberries

Cranberry is a unique fruit. It can grow and survive only under a very special combination of factors. These factors include acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, and a growing season that extends from April to November.

Cranberry is a Native American wetland fruit which grows on trailing vines like a strawberry. The vines thrive on the special combination of soils and water properties found in wetlands. Wetlands are nature’s sponges; they store and purify water and help to maintain the water table. Cranberries grow in beds layered with sand, peat and gravel. These beds are commonly known as bogs or marshes and were originally formed as a result of glacial deposits.

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Harvest of cranberries

The majority of cranberries is harvested between September and October, and occurs in one of two ways. By far the most common is wet or water harvest. The beds are flooded and the fruit is “beaten” off the vine using a specialized harvester. The floating fruit is then corralled and loaded onto trucks for delivery to a receiving station. Wet-harvested fruit is used for processed cranberry products like juice and sauce. Dry harvested fruit is “combed” from the vines using a mechanized picking machine. No water is involved during this process. The fruit is loaded into bins and shipped to receiving stations where it is cleaned and packaged as fresh fruit.

By the way, cranberries don’t grow in or under water. It’s a common misconception that cranberries are grown in water. In fact, the fruit is grown on trailing vines in sandy bogs or marshes. Water is used during a so-called wet harvest because each berry has an air pocket so they float and can be easily collected. Cranberries are also harvested using a dry method with mechanical pickers that comb the berries off the vines.

Cranberry growing regions in the United States

Cranberries are grown through the northern part of the United States. The major production areas are New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec. Other regions grow cranberries as well, to varying extent, and these include Delaware, Maine, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, as well as the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Cranberries are also commercially grown in Chile. These regions offer the special conditions that cranberries require, including sandy soil; abundant fresh water and a dormancy period that provides enough chill hours to produce a crop the following growing season.
New Jersey is currently the third largest cranberry producing area in the United States following Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Currently, New Jersey has approximately 3,600 acres while Massachusetts has 11,000 acres. Burlington, Atlantic, and Ocean counties are major cranberry growing areas in New Jersey. The native fruit is also grown in Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Middlesex, and Monmouth counties.

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Health benefits of cranberries

Cranberry juice is renowned for its effectiveness in treating urinary tract infections because it inhibits bacteria from attaching to the bladder and urethra. How does the same premise prevent cavities and gum disease? Another anti-gram bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, keeps plaque from sticking to the surface of your teeth. This is a perfect example of how some bacteria in the body can be good.
Antioxidants and phytonutrients in cranberries, such as oligomeric proanthocyanidins, anthocyanidin flavonoids (which give them their bright red color), cyanidin, peonidin, and quercetin, have unique health-impacting attributes. (Scientists say it’s possible that the anthocyanidin strength in cranberries is increased when they’re water-harvested, due to the amount of natural sunlight they’re exposed to.) Some contain stroke- and cardiovascular disease-preventing compounds that discourage cholesterol from forming in the heart and blood vessels.

Research bears out that cranberries also protect against cancer, particularly breast cancer, due in part to potent antioxidant polyphenols.

The fiber in cranberries is another big benefit, providing 20% of the daily recommended value in every serving for maintaining a flushed system. The same amount is found in manganese. One serving of cranberries also provides 24% of the daily value (DV) in vitamin C, along with vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), the only form of this powerful antioxidant actively maintained in the human body.
Fresh cranberries contain the most antioxidants; dried cranberries run a close second, but bottled cranberry juice contain the least. Make sure when buying juice or juice cocktails that it’s 100% juice and not a “drink” which often (always) includes added sugar.

Because cranberries and cranberry juice contain oxalic acid and can also enhance the anticoagulant capacity of certain medications, individuals with urinary tract stones and those on warfarin therapy should limit their intake of these foods and beverages.

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Nutrition facts of cranberries

One half cup or 55 grams of chopped cranberries contains:
25 calories
0.25 grams (g) of protein
0.07 g of fat
6.6 g of carbohydrate, including 2.35 g of sugar
2 g of fiber
5 milligrams (mg) of calcium
0.12 mg of iron
3.5 mg of magnesium
6 mg of phosphorus
44 mg of potassium
1 mg of sodium
0.05 mg of zinc
7.7 mg of vitamin C
0.5 micrograms (mcg) of folate DFE
35 IU of Vitamin A
0.72 mg of vitamin E
2.75 mcg of vitamin K
Cranberries also contain the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6.
Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C, fiber, and vitamin E.

Cranberry juice

Cranberry juice is the juice of the cranberry. The term “cranberry juice cocktail” refers to products that contain about 28% cranberry juice and the remainder either other fruit juices (typically grape, apple and/pear) or water with sugar added. There are also low-calorie versions that use non-caloric sweeteners.

Nutrition facts of cranberry juice

A cup of standard 100% cranberry juice, amounting to 248 grams or 8 ounces, is a rich source of antioxidants and vitamin C. It also supplies modest amounts of calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and potassium. Cranberry juice is classified as an acidic drink with a typical pH between 2.3 and 2.5.

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Production process of cranberry juice and cranberry juice concentrate

Cranberries are a kind of tart red berry produced by various plant species, but it is the large-fruited, or “American cranberry” (Vaccinium macrocarpon), that is farmed for commercial production. Currently, the main cranberry farming Canadian provinces are British Columbia, Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. However, the lower temperatures present in the Eastern provinces require the use of irrigation and flooding to prevent frost damage and moisture loss. Wet harvesting is the common harvesting method used for cranberries that are to become cranberry juice. A paddled machine called a water reel harvester is used to separate the ripe cranberries from the vines, then collected through a large suction pipe and transported by truck to a processing plant. At the processing plant, the cranberries go through a sequence of fruit crushing, mash maceration, mash heating, juice pressing, and pasteurization to produce a cranberry concentrate that is separated from pulp. To prepare a cranberry juice/cocktail product, cranberry juice concentrate is reconstituted with varying amounts of water, specified by the solicitation, contract, or purchase order.

Traditionally, cranberry juice is commercially sterilized though thermal processing to eliminate any pathogenic or spoilage-causing microorganisms and spores. The prepared cranberry juice product is heat treated by high temperature-short time (HTST) or ultra-high temperature (UHT) techniques and packaged into aseptic, hermetically-sealed containers. During thermal processing, the cranberry juice receives a heat treatment time equivalent to a 5-log pathogen reduction. Often, the bacterium Clostridium botulinum is given special attention during thermal processing techniques of food. However, C. botulinum does not grow and produce toxins below a pH of 4.6 and cranberry juice is classified as a high-acid food with a pH of 2.3 to 2.9.

Recently, new methods of cranberry juice processing include high pressure processing (HHP) and pulsed electric fields (PEF) technology. HHP treatment involves applying pressure (80,000 psi or 550 MPa) to cranberry juice for 1 to 9 minutes to eliminate any harmful bacteria, molds and viruses. The resulting raw cranberry juice, without thermal processing, is classified as a novel food item by Health Canada. PEF treatment involves generating a high-intensity electric field inducing a flux of electrical current to flow through the food product to eliminate harmful microorganisms. PEF treated cranberry juice does not alter the flavor, color, or aroma profile of the cranberries used, unlike the traditional thermally processed method.

All cranberry juice products are required to be packed in aseptic, hermetically seal containers (plastic bottles, cans, cartons) in accordance with good manufacturing practices of their country. The typical container sizes used are 11.5 or 64 fluid ounce, and each must be filled with the product by at least 90 percent. Cranberry juice products should also not be packaged more than 90 days prior to their delivery, unless specified in the order.

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Cranberry juice standards and regulations in the United States

For US markets, cranberry juice from concentrate is a blended mixture of cranberry juice or cranberry juice concentrate, water, sweeteners, and ascorbic acid. The cranberry juice or concentrate in the mixture must be produced from clean, sound, mature, well-colored, and washed, fresh or frozen cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon). One or more of the following sweetening ingredients may be added: sucrose, liquid sugar, invert sugar syrup, or high fructose corn syrup (40% or greater). The use of food additives (color, flavors or acids) into cranberry juice depends on the percentage of cranberry juice or concentrate by volume. Cranberry juice mixtures with 25% or 27% contain none of the mentioned additives, except for ascorbic acid. Cranberry juice mixtures with 22% contain no added color or flavors, but citric acid may be added. Cranberry juice mixtures with 20% may contain color, flavors, and citric acid. The finished cranberry juice from concentrate product should yield a minimum of one part cranberry juice concentrate to three parts water with a minimum Brix level of 12. Additionally, each cranberry juice product should be fortified with Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), with each serving size delivering not less than 100% of the current US Referenced Daily Intake. The minimum titratable acidity of the cranberry juice product must be 1.67% w/w, measured as citric acid.

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