Berries (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
BERRIES. Wherever humans have lived, berries have been a part of their diet. Most of these have never developed beyond local markets but some have become globally important crops. Historically, berries were eaten fresh or processed into dried or fermented products. Many descriptions of indigenous American culture describe smoking and/or drying berries that are mixed with some sort of meat product to form Pemmican. As sugar became commonly available as a preservative, jams, preserves, and jellies became popular. With the development of the canning industry in the late 1800s, the freezing industry in the mid-1900s, and the global transportation system in the late 1900s, long-distance distribution and long-term storage began to spread a handful of berry crops throughout the world. Today, in any large grocery, fresh berries are available year round. Whereas berries used to be found only in the fresh produce and dessert sections, they are now found in every section as well as in the adjacent health food store as a nutritional supplement and in the liquor store as wine and distilled spirits. Historically, berries were welcomed as a pleasing and nutritious addition to a drab table. While this has not changed, the increased value placed on nutraceutical foods is likely to expand berry consumption even further. (Nutraceutical foods, also called functional foods, are foods that provide a medical or health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients they contain.)
Market globalization has led to the development of a group of major crops, often at the expense of still popular regional crops. This discussion is largely limited to the most economically important and well-known temperate "berry" crops that are produced on a shrub or a perennial herbaceous plant, including: strawberry (Fragaria X ananassa), blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum and V. angustifolium), cranberry (V. macrocarpon), black currant (Ribes nigrum); red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis), and blackberry (Rubus sp.).
Plant biology. The cultivated strawberry (Fragaria X ananassa) is a low-growing, herbaceous perennial in the rose family (Rosaceae). Trifoliate leaves are produced from a crown as are the flowering trusses and runners. The hermaphroditic (both sexes present) flowers have white petals with many stamens surrounding a pistilcovered receptacle. The showy flowers are insect pollinated. Following successful pollination and fertilization, the achenes (seeds) set, and the receptacle tissue below the achenes swells and ripens. The crown also produces runners, which are elongated stolons that can root and form new "daughter" plants.
History. Strawberries are believed to have been cultivated in Greek and Latin gardens and they were mentioned by Pliny the Elder (239 C.E.) in his Natural History. Darrow reprints many examples of the use of strawberry in Christian religious art of the 1400s. The "X" in the Latin name for the cultivated strawberry, which indicates that it is a hybrid between two species, points to its interesting background. The Mapuche and Huilliche people of Chile were cultivating the native F. chiloensis at the time of the Spanish conquest in the mid-1500s and the plant was counted by the Spaniards as a spoil of war that they carried north into Peru and Ecuador. In 1711, Amédée François Frézier was commissioned by King Louis XIV of France to sail to Chile on an intelligence mission. In addition to mapping and observing Spanish activities, he explored the botany of the region. Five plants from Concepción survived the six-month voyage back to France in 1714. Frézier did not realize that the wild species are largely dioecious (separate male and female plants) and he had only collected female plants. As a result, these Chilean treasures were very uneven in their performance, producing little if any fruit in France. After many years of observation, gardeners realized that the plants were productive when grown with F. virginiana, the meadow strawberry, which the Europeans brought back from their colonies in eastern North America. Regardless of whether the hybridization of these two American species in France was intentional or happenstance, the result was the cultivated strawberry.
Fragaria chiloensis, the beach strawberry, ranges from Alaska to the central California coast in North America and Chile, primarily on dunes within the fog zone adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. Fragaria virginiana ranges throughout much of temperate North America except for the drier regions. New germ plasm (wild representatives of a species) from these two species have been used over time to introduce new traits into the cultivated strawberry and, in one case, this led to a revolution in the industry. While most strawberries produce flower buds in response to the shortening days of late summer and go
Production, processing, and distribution. California is the most important production area in the world, and cultivars and production techniques developed there are commonly used throughout the world. Strawberries for the wholesale fresh market are grown on fumigated soils with plastic mulch and drip irrigation. The plants are primarily grown as an annual crop. Fruiting begins about two months after planting and continues for seven to nine months, after which the plants are removed. Fresh market strawberries are harvested directly into plastic clamshell packages that are then shipped under refrigeration. Strawberries for the processed market are either a by-product of the fresh market, that is, those that are too small or malformed, or they are harvested from cultivars specifically designed for the processed market. Processing cultivars have intense color and flavor, and maintain their integrity after processing. Strawberries are canned and dried but the primary raw processed products are as frozen IQF (individually quick frozen) berries, sugar and sliced packs, purees, or as juice. A tremendous diversity of consumer products are made from these primary raw products.
Strawberries, as with most berries, once had to be consumed locally due to perishability; however, with improved cultivars, production practices, packaging, and transportation, fresh fruit can be shipped long distances from the growers' fields.
Strawberries are a valuable source of vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, and anthocyanins (red pigment). Anthocyanins have been recently recognized for their nutraceutical benefit as antioxidants in human nutrition.
Red Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Blackberry, Caneberry, Bramble (Rubus)
Red (Rubus idaeus) and black raspberry (R. occidentalis), and blackberry (many diverse Rubus species), are the most important crops in the genus Rubus. In addition, some of the hybrids between red raspberry and blackberry such as "Boysen" and "Logan" and other species such as the cloudberry (R. chamaemorus) in Scandinavia, the wineberry (R. phoenicolasius) in Japan, the mora (R. glaucus) in Andean South America, and the trailing raspberry (R. parvifolius) in Asia have become regionally important crops. As a group, these species are often referred to as "caneberries" or "brambles."
Plant biology. Members of the Rosaceae discussed above have perennial root systems and biennial canes. With one exception, these biennial canes are vegetative the first year (primocanes) and produce fruit the second year (floricanes) before dying. The primocane/fall fruiting raspberries and, in the near future, blackberries are the exception, as they flower and produce fruit late in the season on first-year canes. Floricanes break bud in the spring and produce flowering branches with many insect-pollinated flowers. Flowers have white or light pink petals with a ring of many stamens that surround a pistilcovered receptacle (also called torus). After pollination and fertilization, each of the individual ovaries develops into a drupelet, which collectively form the aggregate fruit. Raspberries are differentiated from blackberries based on whether the torus remains on the plant when the fruit is picked (raspberries) or whether it is picked with the fruit (blackberries).
Raspberry history. Red raspberry is native throughout the colder temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and black raspberry throughout the midwestern and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The first red raspberries were introduced into cultivation in Europe about 450 years ago, according to Hedrick, and European cultivars were brought to North America prior to 1800. Black raspberries were commonly picked from the wild in North America and the first named cultivars began appearing in the 1850s.
Red raspberry. While raspberries today are grown throughout the world in temperate regions, their production is concentrated in eastern Europe and the Pacific Northwest of North America. Berries from these two regions are primarily processed as IQF, purees, or juice, and these basic raw products serve as the basis for innumerable consumer products. Trellised, irrigated, long-term, perennial plantings that are mechanically harvested are standard for the processing industry. Production for the fresh market is evolving rapidly, with California and Mexico as the production centers for the Americas and Germany in Europe. Chile, New Zealand, and Australia are the major suppliers of fresh fruit during winter in the Northern Hemisphere. For the fresh market, plants are grown either in a perennial system or, as in California, for one and a half years, during which two crops are produced, and then the plants are removed. Fruit for the fresh market are hand-picked and generally produced under protective plastic hoop structures.
Black raspberry. While there are many scattered small plantings of black raspberries throughout North America to serve local fresh market needs, the bulk of the industry is concentrated in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Black raspberries are grown in hedges about one by one meter in short-term (three-to four-year) perennial plantings that are machine harvested. While some black raspberry jam is produced, the berries are primarily processed as juice and often used as a natural colorant.
Blackberry. Blackberries are native throughout Eurasia and the Americas, although the primary commercial cultivars were developed from species native to North America. Erect and semierect cultivars were derived from eastern North American species and these can be characterized by being upright-growing, firm-fruited, large-seeded, and more suitable for the fresh market than for processing. These types are generally grown in small, long-term, perennial plantings throughout the United States, with a higher concentration of acreage on the western coast of the United States. For the processing market, the trailing blackberry cultivars, particularly "Marion" (often called Marion berry), are grown in long-term, trellised plantings that are harvested by machine for the processing market. This industry is concentrated in Oregon's Willamette Valley, although Mexico is expanding production. Fruit is processed as IQF, purees, and juice, and these are used to produce many consumer products.
Variations in regional demand. Demand for the various types of caneberries shows marked geographical trends. Since the caneberries have always been picked from the wild near where people have lived, there are many small but regionally significant industries that have developed around these crops. While red and black raspberry and blackberry dominate the worldwide market, travelers in Andean South America or Scandinavia will find an abundance of products made from the regionally grown mora or cloudberry, respectively. In North America, the region where one grew up often influenced what kind of caneberry one preferred, with southerners preferring blackberry and northerners preferring red raspberry.
Uses and nutrition. Until the late part of the 1900s, raspberries and blackberries were primarily used to make jams and jellies or desserts. Now these crops have been incorporated into myriad products that require juices. Blackberries and raspberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, calcium, fiber, iron, and folic acid. The increased interest in nutraceutical products focuses special interest on these crops. While blueberries and cranberries have been touted for their proven health benefits, the anthocyanins (pigments that give the fruits their red and purple colors), which are powerful antioxidants, are even more concentrated in blackberries and raspberries, especially in black raspberries.
Blueberry, Cranberry, Lingonberry (Vaccinium)
Plant biology. Blueberry, cranberry, and lingonberry are all long-lived perennial crops in the Ericaceous family. These crops were originally native to acidic and moist soils with high organic matter levels in cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Blueberries are upright-growing plants with long-lived perennial canes. Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), native to the eastern United States, is a shrubby, crown-forming bush (1.5 m) and is the basis for most of the cultivated blueberry industry. Lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium), native to the northern United States and southern Canada, is a small bush (0.5 m) that spreads by underground stems. Managed wild stands of the lowbush in eastern Canada and eastern Maine are the basis for the "wild" blueberry industry. Cranberry (V. macrocarpon) is a creeping plant that produces fruiting uprights and is native to boggy areas of the northern United States and southern Canada. Lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea) is a short-statured (0.3 m) plant that spreads by underground stems, and while it is found circumboreally, it has been primarily developed into a crop in Scandinavia and northern Europe.
Blueberry. Blueberries produce clusters of hanging bell-shaped white or light pink flowers in the spring. The insect-pollinated flowers swell to form a true berry that contains many very small seeds. When ripe, the fruit have a bluish black skin covered by a waxy bloom that gives them their bright blue appearance.
Blueberries are truly an "all-American" crop, as they were native to this continent, developed as a crop on this continent, and, until the late 1900s, were not well known outside of this continent. In the early 1900s, a grower in New Jersey began to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop improved blueberries. From these modest beginnings, the USDA went on to release all of the cultivars, which led to highbush blueberries' rise from a little-known "swamp plant" to one of the most important berry crops worldwide. While lowbush blueberries have not been changed by breeding, the production practices have become highly developed since the first Europeans harvested the expanses of mixed lowbush blueberry and forest lands in Maine and eastern Canada that Native Americans had harvested for generations.
Highbush blueberry production is concentrated in North Carolina, New Jersey, Michigan, and the Pacific Northwest, and the much smaller European industry is primarily in Germany and France. Chile, New Zealand, and Australia are major suppliers in the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere. Today plants are grown on ridged plantings, with irrigation and pest control, and they are harvested by machine for processing markets. The berries for the fresh market are harvested, cooled, packed in plastic clamshells, and shipped around the world. Fresh blueberries are often stored for up to two months in a controlled atmosphere.
Early growers and commercial canners recognized that if they burned their "wild" lowbush fields every other year, they could more easily harvest the abundant fruit in the intermediate year. Field burning not only managed growth, but it eliminated many of the competing plants, insects, and diseases. While lowbush blueberries were never planted by man, they are really no longer "wild" since the larger commercial operations are intensively managed, as are the highbush blueberries. Lowbush blueberries are harvested by hand with rakes and, where the ground surface area permits, by machines for processing.
Lowbush and highbush blueberries are processed as IQF, purees, juice, and dried products. One of the reasons that blueberry consumption and production rose so dramatically at the end of the twentieth century was their suitability for many processed products (for example, they have no noticeable seeds or pits, they blend well with other products, and their flavor is not intense so they can be used very widely).
Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber. Anecdotal stories from World War II attributed the supposedly better night vision of British pilots to their consumption of bilberry (V. myrtillus) jam. Decades later, in the 1990s, the benefits of bilberry to the health of microcapillaries and as a powerful antioxidant were documented by medical research. Subsequently, blueberry, which is more readily available for mass consumption than bilberry, was studied and was found to have a similar chemical constituency, although sometimes at a lower concentration than in bilberry.
Cranberry. Cranberry, originally called "craneberry" by early immigrants to North America due to the shape of the flower, was used by Native Americans as a food, a medicine, and a dye long before Europeans arrived. Native to northern temperate areas from Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean, cranberries were first cultivated in Massachusetts in the early 1800s. While many cultural changes have improved production, most of the cultivars grown today are selections from the wild or superior plants found in growers' bogs. Bog establishment is a very expensive process that involves land leveling, water system management, soil amendments, and diking. Since the development of wetlands is tightly regulated in North America, establishing new bogs there is becoming increasingly difficult. The vining plants produce uprights that produce flowers. With insect pollination, the flowers are fertilized and the fruit develop. In early fall, the fields are flooded and specialized machines beat the fruit off the plant where they can float to the surface and be skimmed off into trucks. While many have the image of cranberries growing in water, they are actually not tolerant of flooding for extended periods, so fields are drained immediately after harvest. For commercial bogs in very cold climates, water is layered into the fields in early winter, and after each layer freezes, another is added, eventually covering the plants and protecting them from the harsh climate. Fruit is primarily processed into juice. A small portion of the crop is sold fresh for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, and there is a growing market for dried, sweetened cranberries ("craisins"). Cranberries have a long association with holidays, particularly American Thanksgiving. In 1959, just before the holiday season, a pesticide scare swept the United States, closing all outlets for fresh cranberries, and much of the crop was dumped. This disaster further spurred the development of a wider variety of products. The Ocean Spray growers cooperative, formed in the 1930s, did a remarkable job of expanding cranberry demand in the late 1900s, particularly through their well-known fruit juices.
Cranberry juice has been a well-known home remedy for women seeking relief from yeast infections in their urinary tract. In the 1990s, medical research documented that consumption of cranberry juice could cure yeast infections. In addition, cranberries are a rich source of vitamin C, fiber, and anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants.
Lingonberry. Lingonberries have always been closely tied with the people of Scandinavia and northern Europe, where much of the commercial crop is still harvested from wild stands. When cultivated, the plants are established in rows that fill in quickly with growing underground stems. Two crops are produced in long season areas; the summer crop is usually not harvested, but the fall crop is harvested for holiday sales. While machines are being developed to harvest lingonberries, hand raking is still the predominant method of harvest. Lingonberries most often remind people of a "mild" cranberry. As such, they can usually be used in similar applications to fresh cranberries and are popular as preserves and relishes.
Black Currant, Gooseberry, Red Currant (Ribes)
Gooseberries and currants are members of the Saxifrage family that have been prized in Europe and Russia for centuries but have not developed a strong market elsewhere. Gooseberries and red currants have very interesting histories, but their production is tiny compared to black currant and they will not be discussed in detail. Part of the reason that currants and gooseberries have not developed a following in the United States is that growing them has been banned in many states, as they are an alternate host for white pine blister rust, which can be devastating to the white pine timber trade.
Plant biology, history, and production. These crown-forming, long-lived perennial shrubs produce their fruit on woody, one-year-old, smooth canes (gooseberries have thorns). Buds along the cane produce strigs that have from eight to thirty flowers in the spring. The flowers are not showy, typically light green or yellow colored, but are attractive to insects for pollination. Black currants (Ribes nigrum) are native to the cooler regions of Eurasia and can tolerate extremely cold winter temperatures. Despite being found in close association with humans for a long time, they were largely used as a medicinal plant until fairly recently. Hedrick quotes an herbal from 1633 that says black currants are "of a stinking and somewhat loathing savour."
Uses and nutrition. Beginning in the 1900s, juice products from currants were developed, the most famous being Ribena, as it was recognized that the high vitamin C content of black currants could be maintained when juiced. In a sense, black currant juice has been to Europeans what orange juice was to Americans. In addition to vitamin C, black currants are a rich source of antioxidants, vitamin A, and calcium. Black currants are grown almost exclusively for processing as juice. Plants, primarily cultivars developed in the United Kingdom or Russia, are cultivated in hedgerows that are mechanically harvested. Fruit is bulk frozen and then juiced.
As was first mentioned, wherever humans have lived they have made berries a part of their diet, and as such there are innumerable berries not mentioned here that are part of the human diet. Some examples of other berries that have generated renewed or new interest, in addition to red currant and gooseberry, include aronia (Aronia melanocarpa), elderberry (Sambucus nigra/S. canadensis), sea buckthorn (Hippophae rahmnoides), juneberry/serviceberry/saskatoon (Amelanchier sp.) and edible honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea) (Finn). However, unless they have unique characteristics, such as high nutraceutical value, they are unlikely to significantly impact the production and consumption of the major crops.
See also Fruit; Nutraceuticals; Pesticides; Wine.
Darrow, G. M. "Strawberry Improvement." In Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture, 1937. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1937.
Finn, Chad. "Temperate Berry Crops." In Perspectives on New Crops and New Uses, edited by Jules Janick. Alexandria, Va.: ASHS Press, 1999.
Hedrick, U. P. The Small Fruits of New York. Albany, N.Y.: J. B. Lyon Co., 1925.
Chad Elliott Finn