It’s one of the most magnificent scenes in nature: a sea of red set against clear, pristine water, reflecting the blue sky and the deep red tones of fall. At closer observation, the little red beads ebb and flow atop the water, reflecting sunlight, like floating rubies. Cranberries are one of the best surprises nature has to offer; a powerhouse for natural health chemistry at its best. Each little berry is packed with nutrition already known by aboriginal groups that used it as a medicinal ingredient, to make pemmican, a convenient food that provided protein and energy during long journeys and as a natural textile dye.
Classified as a medicinal food source by the Canadian government, 300 milliliters of cranberry juice daily is believed to prevent urinary tract infections. According to preliminary tests at the University of Wisconsin, cranberry juice may also have an antioxidant effect on clogged heart arteries, reducing cardiovascular disease. Cranberries are also known to benefit the immune system, contain anti-cancer properties and are rich in Vitamin C.
In colonial times, sailors used cranberries to ward off scurvy, a disease caused by a Vitamin C deficiency. The berries are also a plaque fighter, assisting in oral hygiene.
The large cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is one of three super fruits native to North America. It grows most efficiently within cool environs in wet, marshy and periodically flooded areas known as bogs.
Native to the Atlantic provinces of Canada, according to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website, cranberries are now grown from Newfoundland to central Minnesota, south of Nova Scotia, New England, Long Island (New York), West Virginia, northern Ohio, central Indiana, northern Illinois, Arkansas, and the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Besides its native area of origin, the large cranberry is also cultivated in parts of British Columbia, Oregon and Washington and in Northern and Eastern Europe. Some parts of the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland also cultivate V. macrocarpon and the Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. variety.
Cranberries are harvested in the fall, when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color. This super fruit has been usually known for the traditional Thanksgiving turkey sauce that is so popular in Canada and the United States. Currently, cranberry is the third favorite juice in North America, after orange and apple juice. The U.S. consumption of cranberries per capita is two pounds, almost entirely in the form of juice. They are available fresh and frozen, but 95% of the fruit is consumed as juice, dried and sweetened, as sauce and powdered format. There is even cranberry wine. Non-food products such as cosmetics are also finding the cranberry as active ingredient in their formulations.
According to Agri-Food Canada, there are over 1,000 cranberry growers in the United States utilizing almost 14,000 hectares and 18 handlers, with processors producing more than $1 billion in retail sales annually.
The USDA production forecast for the 2012 cranberry crop was 7.68 million barrels, down less than one percent from the 2011 production level.
Ocean Spray Inc., a growers' cooperative comprising 750 cranberry and grapefruit growers in the U.S. and Canada, sells about 90%of the cranberries grown in North America; 23% of U.S. cranberry sales are now sold internationally.
Fruit d'Or is the top Canadian and North American producer and processor of organic cranberries, which represent 30% of its total sales. The 12-year-old company, based in Quebec, started as an organic producer and has established solid partnerships with other producers that supply 40% of its total volume.
“In the 1990s, there were only five major cranberry producers in Quebec, now over 50,” says Marie- Marie-Michèle Le Moine, international account manager at Fruit d’Or.
“Consumers want more health foods and the health properties in cranberries are now more widely known, increasing demand not only in Canada and the USA, but also in Europe, Japan and Australia,” she says. Fruit d’Or exhibits directly at Fancy Foods, Expo West and Sial Canada. At the European fairs, BioFach and NOPE, the company exhibits with its EU distributor Berrico.
Demand for cranberry and formulations derived from the little super berry will keep up, as the science that explains the cranberry’s “mechanism of action“ is established, thanks to research conducted by experts such as Decas Botanical Synergies, confirming the popular belief that cranberries offer strong therapeutic benefits. This company was recognized best 2012 ingredient supplier at the Food Ingredients Europe fair this fall in Germany.