By Carol Witte, RDN, Senior Services Nutrition Program Director
Eating with color in mind is so easy during the summer season when berries are available at the farmer markets, fruit markets and grocery stores! The sweet, yet tart, treat is a great source of fiber and vitamin C. These wonderful tasting summer treats also provide phytochemicals which may help defend against heart disease, cancer and memory loss.
Fresh, frozen and dried berries have similar nutrients, although if cooked some vitamin C may be lost. Fresh berries are a great low calorie snack, but be cautious when eating large amounts of dried berries as calories can add up quickly. Berries can be added to yogurt, smoothies, cereal, salads, vegetables or served as dessert. They are ideal for adding color and intense flavor to any plate!
Berries are delicate, so you need to look for firm plump berries without bruising and mold. They can be stored in the refrigerator for four to six days or can be frozen to extend their shelf life.
Freezing berries is an easy task and once frozen they can be enjoyed in smoothies, added to baked goods or just used as a cool snack on a hot summer day. Sort your berries to make sure there are no stems or damaged berries in the mix. Berries should be washed just before freezing. To clean, rinse in cool water and pat dry. If you are freezing strawberries, hull them first. Lay berries in a single layer and place in freezer until frozen solid. Once frozen, place the berries into a plastic freezer storage bags (removing as much air as possible) or in air tight plastic containers. If freezer temperatures are maintained at 0°F or cooler they will last between 6-12 months.
Strawberries are high in vitamin C and folate. The peak season in Michigan is May and June. Frozen strawberries become very mushy when thawed but still provide that wonderful strawberry flavor when mixed in beverages and with other fruit. Try making homemade strawberry jam using a reduced sugar recipe.
Blackberries and Raspberries are excellent source of vitamin C and fiber. They provide wonderful colors and are great on salads and when used for sauces, preserves and desserts.
Currants are available in black, red and white varieties. They are very tart, but an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber. They make a flavorful jam and they are great dried and used in breads or cookies. Looking for a new menu idea? Try using currants and other berries to make delicious chutney to serve with pork or poultry.
Blueberries have been found to contain compounds which help with heart health, cancer fighting benefits and memory issues. They are a wonderful snack all on their own, but also make wonderful additions to salads, desserts and preserves. They freeze great and can be enjoyed in muffins and crisps throughout the winter months.
Cranberries are also an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber and may play a role in preventing recurring urinary tract infections as long as sugar is limited. They are wonderful dried and frozen and can be a great addition to add flavor to meats. Cranberries are available fresh from October to December.
So get those berries and enjoy eating in COLOR!