When you think about holiday fruits, apples probably come to mind first. Then maybe pears or even pomegranates, which have gotten a lot of attention recently. But one of the quintessential cold-weather fruits, cranberries, rarely get much attention outside of the Thanksgiving table. And that’s a shame, because these tart berries have so much more going for them than just sauce.
For one thing, cranberries are naturally rich in antioxidants. In fact, past research indicates that, ounce for ounce, cranberries have the highest phenol (read: powerful antioxidant) content of the most commonly consumed fruits in the United States. Raw cranberries are also a good source of vitamins C and E, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). One ½-cup serving of whole raw cranberries has 23 calories, 6 grams (g) of carbohydrates, more than 1 g of dietary fiber, and only 2 g sugar.
Unfortunately, the most popular cranberry products mask the berries’ naturally tart flavor with tons of added sugar. For example, a serving of dried cranberries (which is half as much as a serving of fresh berries, at ¼ cup) has 123 calories (that’s more than five times that of the raw cranberries), 33 g carbohydrates, and a tooth-rattling 29 g sugar — the equivalent of more than 7 teaspoons (tsp)! Cranberry juice isn’t quite as bad, but 1 cup of unsweetened cranberry juice still contains 116 calories and 31 g sugar. (Juices labeled “cocktails” tend to have even more added sugars than those labeled “100% juice” as well.)
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There is also some evidence that cranberries may help decrease the risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI). One October 2017 meta-analysis published in The Journal of Nutrition found that using some form of cranberry reduced the risk of a UTI by 26 percent. These findings have conflicted with other research, however, so additional research is needed.
Here are some of my other favorite fun facts about cranberries:
- They bounce. Seriously, go test one. In fact, historically, cranberries had to bounce a certain height in order to be deemed good enough for consumption.
- They float. That’s actually how they’re harvested. The farmers flood the bog (the place where cranberries are grown) each fall and drive over the plants with a large paddled machine to release the fruit from the vines on which they grow. The cranberries then float to the top of the water, where they are collected.
- There are entire museums dedicated exclusively to cranberries (and I’ve been to one)!
More Ways to Enjoy Cranberries
Cranberries can be tremendously versatile in the kitchen. Their tart flavor is generally paired with sweet ingredients as in cranberry sauce, cranberry bread, and even cranberry-flavored holiday beverages. However, they are also a delight in savory dishes. Add them to your holiday stuffing or a weeknight baked chicken dish to see cranberries really shine!
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Of course, cranberry sauce is a holiday staple, especially at my family’s dinner table. It wasn’t always — growing up, cranberry sauce wasn’t among the traditional Italian dishes my grandmother, a phenomenal cook, was known to make. For years, I thought that all cranberry sauce came with the rings of the can imprinted into it.
But as I’ve grown and developed my own cooking skills and holiday traditions, homemade cranberry sauce has become a passion of mine. It’s a surprisingly simple way to impress my guests and offer a much healthier option at the same time. Plus, I love the ability to bring additional flavors of the season into the dish by adding cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange. Leftover cranberry sauce can be stirred into plain yogurt, used to top a whole-grain waffle, or mixed into overnight oats or a fresh smoothie. With so many possibilities, why enjoy cranberries just one day a year? Here is my personal recipe.
Spiced Holiday Cranberry Sauce
12 oz (1 bag) fresh cranberries
Zest and juice from 1 medium orange
¼ cup water
¼ cup honey or maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
- Place cranberries, orange juice, honey, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Bring mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the cranberries have popped and the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in orange zest. Set aside to cool completely. Refrigerate until serving.
Nutrition per ¼-cup serving (serves 8): 57 calories, 0g total fat (0g saturated fat), 0g protein, 15g carbohydrates, 1.7g fiber, 11.3g sugar (8.6g added sugar), 1mg sodium
No matter what you celebrate this time of year, cranberries are a great addition. With their festive color and tart flavor, not to mention a slew of nutritional benefits, these berries can shine long after Thanksgiving. I hope you have a beautiful holiday season full of love and cranberries!