It’s cranberry season on the cape! During the fall months, cranberries are harvested all along the South Shore, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. While many of us use cranberries in baking and cooking, especially during the fall and winter months, most people are unaware of their many health benefits. More surprising than their many health benefits is the long history of cranberries starting tens of thousands of years ago.
The History of Cranberries
The beginning of cranberries began when receding glaciers formed cavities in the land that filled with sand, clay, and debris, ultimately creating cranberry bogs that spread across Massachusetts. Wild cranberries have been around for nearly 12,000 years, first cultivated by Native Americans. Traditionally, Native Americans used cranberries to treat bladder and kidney diseases and for nutritional purposes. As Europeans began to explore and settle in New England in the 16th and 17th centuries, cranberries were used to treat poor appetite, blood disorders, and scurvy. Later on, in the 1800s, cranberries began to be cultivated widely and the number of growers increased dramatically throughout the 19th century. By 1927, the cranberry harvest became so vital to Massachusetts’ economy that children were excused from school to help with the work. Today, the industry continues to grow. Cranberry growers harvest nearly 40,000 acres of cranberries each year.
The Health Benefits of Cranberries
While the current uses of cranberries have differed from their early history, they are still used for their many health benefits. Interestingly, research has shown that cranberries can lower the risk of urinary tract infections, prevent certain types of cancer, improve immune function, and decrease blood pressure. Here are a few ways this superfood can help improve our physical health:
Prevent and treat UTIs
Cranberries have long been used to treat Urinary Tract Infections and are still prescribed to treat them today. Research has shown that concentrated cranberries have high levels of antioxidants proanthocyanins, which can help bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract walls.
Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
According to a 2019 study, cranberries have shown to help manage the risk factors of cardiovascular disease including blood pressure, body mass index, and improve levels of healthy cholesterol. The polyphenols present in cranberries can also help prevent platelet build-up and reduce blood pressure.
Prevent tooth decay
You might be surprised to learn that cranberries can improve our oral health. Proanthocyanins present in cranberries can work to prevent gum disease and the build-up of bacteria that bind to teeth.
Reduce the risk of cancer
Research has shown that cranberries can help slow the progression of tumors and help fight off prostate, liver, breast, ovarian, and colon cancers. Additionally, the compounds in cranberries can help trigger the death of cancer cells, slow the growth of these cells, and reduce inflammation. Researchers are still studying the relationship between cranberries and cancer.
Help with weight loss
Obesity can lead to many different health issues, especially for older adults. In fact, research has shown that excess weight is associated with cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, and other medical conditions. Adding cranberries to your diet can help improve the function of the digestive system and metabolism, all of which contribute to weight loss.
Increasing your consumption of cranberries can help strengthen your immune system and prevent inflammation. The enzyme present in cranberries helps keep viruses separated from your cells, ultimately reducing your risk of illness.
Adding Cranberries into your Diet
While cranberries are in season in September and October, they can be bought all year long. Frozen, dried, and canned cranberries keep for long periods and still have the same nutritional benefits as fresh cranberries. Before you purchase cranberries, be sure to check the nutrition label, as many cranberry products contain added sugars. Here are a few delicious ways you can add cranberries into your diet:
• Add dried cranberries into your trail mix or granola. Be sure to check for added sugars, especially when using dried cranberries.
• Toss in frozen cranberries into your smoothie or fruit bowl. If you find cranberries to taste too tart, try adding some honey for balance.
• Cranberries can add texture and flavor when used as a topping on a salad or even in a fish marinade.
• Make your own cranberry sauce! Canned cranberry sauce contains a lot of sugar, so making it yourself gives you control over what gets added.
• Love oatmeal? Sprinkle some dried cranberries on top or use frozen cranberries to make a sauce to pour over your oatmeal.
Cooking with Cranberries at Maplewood Senior Living
We source locally produced cranberries at many of our Maplewood Senior Living communities. Our chefs use their creativity to incorporate this superfood into as many meals as possible. If you’re looking for a new way to use cranberries, here’s one of our favorites from Chef Tootie at Mill Hill Residence:
Moist Cranberry Orange Bread (from allrecipes.com)
A delicious super-moist dessert bread loaded with mandarin orange and whole cranberries. They make great gifts.
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
Total: 1 hour
Yield: 1 loaf
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups white sugar (reserve 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup butter, melted
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup mandarin oranges, drained
1 large egg
¾ cup milk
¾ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
Step 1: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a large loaf pan.
Step 2: Combine flour, 1 ¾ cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Add melted butter, stir until the mixture is crumbly. Reserve about ¼ cup cranberries and ¼ cup mandarin oranges; stir remaining fruit into the flour mixture.
Step 3: Beat eggs, milk, sour cream, vanilla extract, and orange extract in another bowl until smooth. Gradually stir egg mixture into flour mixture until batter is fully incorporated. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Scatter reserve cranberries and mandarin oranges on top of the batter and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Step 4: Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes; reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and continue baking until the center of the bread springs back when touched, 35 to 40 minutes.
Note: To reduce the amount of white sugar in this recipe, we recommend you substitute either 1 cup brown sugar, ¾ cup of honey, ¾ cup maple syrup, or 2/3 cup agave syrup or 1 teaspoon of stevia = for 1 cup of sugar.
We hope you enjoy the cranberry season as much as we do! If you’d like to hear more about our offerings or to schedule a tour of our facilities, please contact us.