The turkey might grab all the glory during the holiday season, but the cranberry has become a star in its own right.
From jellies to sauces to stuffings and many recipes in between, there are many ways cooks incorporate cranberries into dishes, especially for seasonal meals in November and December.
Harvested in the autumn, cranberries not only fit in well with the movement toward eating locally grown foods but also provide healthy benefits, said Stephanie Decker, program director of Lackawanna College's Kiesendahl School of Hospitality and Tourism in Hawley. Cranberries are loaded with antioxidants, which fight cancer-causing free radicals, and flavonoids, which prevent cardiovascular disease by fighting plaque buildup in the arteries, Mrs. Decker said.
Cranberries seemed to have gained popularity in recent years, with Craisins -- dried cranberries sold by Ocean Spray -- really changing the market, said Melodie Jordan, associate professor and curriculum coordinator for Keystone College's culinary program.
"People use them a lot more because of the fact that they are sweetened and they're more palatable," she said. "They're a healthier snack, per se. And I'm just trying to think in my head when's the last time I turned on the TV and I didn't see a cranberry commercial. Their marketing has been very strong."
Cranberries' natural acidity makes them not only beneficial for fighting inflammatory problems like urinary tract infections but also for balancing out sweeter flavors in foods, Mrs. Decker said. Cooks can add cranberries to stuffings, trail mix, jellies, jams, pies and salads with much success.
"They kind of equalize the fat and the richness on the plate," Chef Jordan said.
The tartness and acidic quality, however, also means some companies tend to inject cranberries with a sucrose product before dehydrating them, making the dried cranberries more like candy, Mrs. Decker said. For healthier options, shoppers should look for dried cranberries sweetened with pineapple sugar or other natural sugars, she added.
In season in the fall, fresh cranberries also can be found in grocery stores, sometimes in the refrigerated section, and easily can be frozen to be used later, Chef Jordan said.
"I would say that the dried cranberries for the home cook would be the quickest and easiest way to incorporate cranberries," she said. "But the fresh (ones), they take a little more time and care because you have to sort through them and make sure they're all good."
Because they float, cranberries also can be added to drinks as a garnish, Mrs. Decker said, and their juice works well in mixed drinks. And instead of diluting drinks with ice cubes of water, she added, people can freeze into cubes fruit juices with fresh cranberries inside and plop those in drinks instead.
"They offer such a great color, too," Mrs. Decker said, "and that nice, tart flavor that you can balance them with sweeter things and come up with a great end product."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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