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Lynn Little: Cranberries are healthful fall fruit

November 11, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE

Cranberries have a tart, slightly acidic flavor and are served in a variety of ways. They can be eaten raw. They can be added to desserts, pastries, muffins and cakes. Dried cranberries (sometimes called craisins) are a tasty snack. With their high pectin content, cranberries are a good ingredient in jams. And, as a sauce, cranberries are the traditional accompaniment to roast turkey.

Some people love cranberries; others turn their noses up at them. The health benefits of cranberries, combined with their unusual taste, versatility and ease of use, have led to increased popularity.

Cranberries are packed with nutrition. They are fat free, cholesterol free and sodium free. One cup of cranberries is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and fiber, and they only have 54 calories per cup.

Cranberries are also a rich source of antioxidants, which boost the body's immune system. Antioxidants reduce damage to cells that can lead to cancer, heart disease and other degenerative diseases. Anthocyanins, the antioxidant compound in cranberries, produce the berries' red color.

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Fresh cranberries are usually available in stores mid-September through December and may be stored in the refrigerator for up to four weeks. Fresh cranberries are usually packed in bags, but you can still check them for firmness and good red color. The bag should contain a minimum of debris and pale berries.

Before using, clean and sort the berries by placing them in a basin of cold water; twigs, leaves and unripe berries are easy to spot because they will float to the surface. This process should be done quickly as you don't want to soak the berries. One 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries will yield about 3 cups of whole berries or 2-1/2 cups chopped berries.

Store dry, fresh cranberries in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Fresh cranberries might last as long as two months in the refrigerator. Cooked cranberries can last as long as a month in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Freezing cranberries for later use is economical and easy, and they store well in airtight bags for up to a year. To freeze fresh cranberries, double wrap them in plastic without washing. When using frozen cranberries in recipes, no thawing is necessary. In fact, best results are obtained by using the cranberries without thawing.

Cranberries are too tart for most people to eat them raw. Cook cranberries just until they pop, as overcooking will give them a bitter taste and make them mushy.

For more information on cranberries, go to www.cranberries.org or www.fruitandveggiesmorematters.org.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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