Turkey’s great and stuffing has its place, but let’s be honest, November is the season for cranberries. And while this delicious berry makes its way to our tables (and our hearts) each holiday season, there’s a lot to learn about this curious little fruit.
1. Cranberries and America go waaaaaaaaay back.
This tart little fruit has a rich history in the United States.
Cranberries are one of the three fruits native to America that are still commercially grown today. Native Americans used cranberries for food and medicine, as its anti-inflammatory capabilities made it a powerful healing agent.
2. Cranberries got their name from an iconic bird.
Each spring, small, pink blossoms emerge on cranberry vines. They hang down in a cone shape, like the bill of a sandhill crane. As such, the
fruit was originally called a “craneberry.” As language does when we get lazy with it, it gradually shifted to “cranberry.”
3. Contrary to popular belief (and all those Ocean Spray commercials) cranberries don’t actually grow underwater.
When you see pictures of cranberry fields, it often appears as though the berries grow in water, but that’s not the case. Cranberries grow on vines in wetland beds layered with sand, gravel, clay, and peat, which is partially decomposed vegetable matter.
These sunken beds are called bogs.
Farmers flood the bogs twice each year first, in December, to protect the dormant cranberry plants from severe winter weather.
Then the following October, farmers flood the bog once more and use commercial tools to shake the vines and release the ripe berries, which float on the water.
Then farmers corral the fruit and load it onto trucks. This process is called a wet harvest.
4. About 768 million pounds of cranberries are grown in the U.S. each year.
Americans consume about 400 million pounds of the tart fruit, and nearly
20% of the harvest is gobbled up the week of Thanksgiving. Sorry, gravy.
5. The state that produces the most cranberries in the world is best known for producing cheese.
You can find commercial cranberry bogs in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. And while the state is best known for cheese, Wisconsin is actually the #1 producer of cranberries in the world, raising over 450 million pounds in 2012.
6. Only 5% of cranberries are sold as fresh fruit.
The rest are sold as juice, cranberry sauce, as dried cranberries, or powdered for medicines.
7. There are nearly 10 pounds of cranberries in a gallon of cranberry juice.
That’s about 4,400 berries to a bottle! Holy freaking cranberries, Batman!
8. There are eight places in the U.S. named Cranberry, or a close variation of the word.
Including not one but two places called Cranberry Township in Pennsylvania, which isn’t confusing at all. Sadly, none of these places are neighbors to Turkey, Texas, or Turkey Creek, Louisiana, which seems like a real missed opportunity if you ask me.
9. Cranberries are rich in antioxidants and helpful nutrients.
Cranberries are a super-fruit of sorts, with many concentrated health benefits. The berries are a natural source of lutein, which is great for eye health, and quercetin, which acts as an anti-inflammatory and may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
All this to say that cranberries are pretty darn amazing.
They are good for your body, a big boost for the economy, and one of America’s oldest and most beloved crops. They’re not the new turkey, but in the war of side dishes and turkey accompaniments, cranberries are definitely giving gravy a run for its money.