Sweet, juicy blueberries are rich in natural pro-anthocyanin pigment antioxidants. These tiny, round blue-purple berries have long been attributed to the longevity and wellness of indigenous people living around subarctic regions in the Northern hemisphere.
Botanically, it is a deciduous shrub belonging to the family of Ericaceae, in the genus, Vaccinium.
Broadly, Vaccinium species classified according to their growth habit as high-bush and low-bush berries.
High-bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a highly branched, erect deciduous shrub with gorgeous foliage. It grows up to 10-12 feet tall in cultivated orchards and bears clusters of small, creamy-white flowers during spring, which subsequently develop into tiny berries after about two months. In the wild, highbush blueberry found on the edges of marshes, lakes, ponds, and streams. Rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum, also known as V. ashei.) is a medium-sized shrub grows naturally in South Eastern parts of the USA.
Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) is a short, erect plant that grows about one-two feet in height and spread through underground rhizomes. Under the cultivated farms, it is grown as two-year cycle crop since the whole plant is either mowed down or burnt to allow new shoots that appear only during the next season.
Both species require well-drained sandy, acidic soil to flourish. The shrub prefers open sunny conditions and intolerant of shade. In general, the berries can be ready for harvesting when they turn completely blue from green-pink, become soft, juicy, and sweeter. Traditionally, blueberries gathered by handpicking, and therefore, require intense labor. Soon after the berries separated from the shrub, they sorted out and transported to a cold facility for storage.
Health benefits of blueberries
Blueberries are very low in calories. 100 g fresh berries carry just 57 calories. Nonetheless, they possess essential health benefiting phytonutrients such as soluble dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and pigment antioxidants that contribute immensely towards optimum health and wellness.
Blueberries are among the highest antioxidant value fruits. The ORAC value of 100 g fresh blueberry is 5562 TE (Trolex equivalents). Their antioxidant value mostly comes from poly-phenolic anthocyanidin compounds such as chlorogenic acid, tannins, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol.
Additionally, they compose of other flavonoid antioxidants such as carotene-ß, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Altogether, the phytochemical compounds in the blueberry help rid off harmful oxygen-derived free radicals from the human body, and thereby, protect it against cancers, aging, degenerative diseases, and infections.
Further, research studies suggest that chlorogenic acid in these berries help lower blood sugar levels and control blood-glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus condition.
Fresh berries carry small amount of vitamin-C, vitamin-A, and vitamin-E. Altogether, these vitamins work as potent antioxidants which help limit free radical mediated injury to the body.
The berries also carry a small amount of B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine, folates, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins are acting as co-factors that help in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Furthermore, they contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, iron and zinc. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper required for the production of red blood cells. Iron required for red blood cell formation.
Selection and storage
In the United States, blueberries can be readily available in the markets year round. However, fresh wild berries are at their best from June until August when their harvest season begins in Michigan and Maine in the USA and Quebec province in Canada.
In the stores, look for fresh berries that are firm, plump, smooth-skinned, with a silver-gray surface bloom. Buy deep purple-blue to blue-black berries. Avoid soft or shriveled, over-handled, bruised berries and those with signs of mold and old stock.
Once at home, place the berries in a plastic or zip pouch and store inside the refrigerator set at high relative humidity. Stored thus, they stay well for up to a week.
Preparation and serving tips
Blueberries are sweet, juicy, and stain mouth deep-blue. Trim away any stems and leaves if you have purchased berries directly from the local farmer.
They are better enjoyed fresh after washing in cold water. If taken out from the cold storage, place them in a bowl of water to bring them back to normal room temperature, which enriches their taste and palatability. Gently pat dry using a moisture absorbent cloth/paper and enjoy!
Here are some serving tips:
Traditionally, blueberries have been part of the food culture of the Native Americans.
While fresh berries are eaten as they are like in table grapes, dried ones added to soup, stews, and to sweeten venison meat.
Dry blueberries are one of the most preferred items in the preparation of muffins, pies, and cheesecakes.
They are also a favorite addition to fruit salads, fresh fruit tarts, and ice-creams.
They can also be employed to make juice, sauce, jellies, and jams.
Blueberries may often cause severe allergic reactions in sensitized individuals. Often, these kinds of reactions occur because of possible cross-reactions to other berries (strawberry), pollen or weed allergies. Some of the most common symptoms of blueberry allergy may include swelling and redness of mouth, lips, and tongue, eczema, hives, skin rash, headache, runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing and gastrointestinal disturbances. Individuals who suspect an allergy to these fruits may want to avoid eating them.