There was once a time when cranberries weren’t everywhere, year round. Just a few decades ago, cranberry consumption was limited to canned jelled cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving dinner. Now cranberries in multiple forms are everywhere. And why not? They add interesting flavor, they’re a good source of several nutrients and polyphenols. And they’re heavily marketed as a health food.
Cranberries are almost inedible without added sweetener. They’re extremely bitter/sour. It’s amazing anyone ever thought to eat them in the first place. Native Americans were using cranberries as early as the 16th century, mixing them into other foods, sweetened with maple sugar or honey.
Nutritionally, cranberries are known for vitamin C content: a cup of whole cranberries has 14 mg of vitamin C, not too bad. They’re low calorie (46) and modest fiber (3.6 grams) with negligible amounts of protein and fat. The only other nutrient of any consequence would be vitamin K.
But few people eat a cup of whole fresh unsweetened cranberries. Most of our cranberry consumption now is outside the Thanksgiving season, as juice or dried berries, all typically sweetened. One-quarter cup of dried sweetened cranberries has 123 calories, most of it from added sugar.
The first significant health-related claim was suggestion that cranberry juice would “cure” or prevent urinary tract infections. A unique phenol in these berries seems to have anti-microbial activity. Other proposed health benefits include improved gut and cardiovascular health. No surprise: cranberries are now described as a “super fruit”. These cheerful red berries have gone from jelled canned sauce at Thanksgiving to year round “super fruit” in just a few years. It’s a marketing home run.
If you want to include cranberries in your diet year round, you could snack on dried cranberries, drink cranberry juice, or sprinkle dried berries on your cereal. Or you could cook. As I’ve mentioned previously, agricultural trade organizations can be great sources of recipes. This website has everything from cranberry meatballs to cocktails to chocolate cake. My preference is for entrees and salads and unique takes on cranberry sides for Thanksgiving or other holiday meals.
My favorite recipe remains one I use exclusively at Thanksgiving: Cranberry Orange Apple relish. It’s always a big hit. It’s a delightful tangy and refreshing addition to the heavier foods of holiday meals. I make enough to ensure leftovers for a couple of days. Be sure to make it a day ahead, as it improves as the fruit and sugar blends together.
Fresh Cranberry Relish
You'll need a food processor for this. Be sure to make it a day ahead to improve the flavor. I use a minimal amount of sugar. This might taste tart if you are used to foods being very sweet. Adjust sugar accordingly, but I don't advise adding a lot more.
- 1 12-oz bag of fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
- 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
- 1 orange, zested and peeled, finely mince the zest
- 1 large apple (or enough for at least 1-1/2 cups chopped apple)
- Step 1 Put the cleaned cranberries in a food processor and pulse briefly to roughly chop. Do Not overprices.
- Step 2 Put the chopped berries in a mixing bowl.
- Step 3 Separate the orange into sections and cut the pieces into 3-4 chunks each. Add to the cranberries.
- Step 4 Mix in the chopped apple.
- Step 5 Pour the sugar over the fruit, mix in.
- Step 6 Add the orange zest and mix.
- Step 7 Cover and refrigerate overnight. Mix again before serving.