Blueberries are one of those healthy treats you never have to feel the least bit guilty about enjoying. As delicious by the handful as they are in salads, cereals, smoothies and sauces, they are at their seasonal best during the height of summer.
Sweet and juicy with a spicy aroma, blueberries — a small, round fruit filled with tiny seeds — are native to North America. Eaten wild for thousands of years, they were first cultivated in the early 1900s. Today they can be purchased both cultivated and wild. Wild blueberries are smaller (less water content) than cultivated blueberries and have a more intense, tangy flavor. Blueberries are also sold dried and frozen — they contain only slightly fewer nutrients than raw blueberries. In season, though, fresh is best. When purchasing, look for firm berries with a light purple-blue color and a silvery frost. They should be dry and plump, not bruised, broken or moldy. If you gently turn the container over, the berries should move freely and the container should be dry inside.
One cup of raw blueberries provides 36 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin K, which is essential for healthy blood clotting and may support bone health. The manganese in blueberries also helps maintain healthy bone structure. The fruit is high in vitamin C, which absorbs iron, reduces free radicals, and helps the body repair and regenerate connective tissue — like skin, blood vessels and bone. Blueberries’ phenols and anthocyanins may help the body store and process glucose more effectively. The fruit’s dietary fiber —
2 grams per half-cup serving — helps keep the digestive tract operating smoothly.
- Toss fresh or frozen blueberries into your favorite herbal iced tea or sparkling water to add a great fruit flavor and lively color.
- Frozen blueberries mixed with yogurt, hemp milk or juice make a creamy smoothie. Use the berries alone or create your favorite blend with other berries or frozen banana pieces.
- Make a fresh blueberry sauce to drizzle on warm cereal. Combine 1 cup fresh blueberries, 1 teaspoon honey and 1 teaspoon lemon juice into a saucepan. Heat to soften berries. Pour into blender and process until smooth. Strain and refrigerate.
- Substitute unsweetened dried blueberries for raisins in breakfast cereal or trail mix. The unsweetened variety can be difficult to find in stores (most contain sugar), but can be ordered online.
- When storing fresh berries, keep them in a shallow container in the refrigerator and wash them only when you are ready to eat them.
- To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse with cold water, then pat dry with a towel.
- To save money, pick or buy fresh blueberries in summer when prices are lowest. To freeze, first wash blueberries in a colander and drain well. Then freeze in single layers on baking sheets for about an hour. Finally, place frozen berries in freezer bags. This method makes the berries easy to handle and allows you to accurately measure what you need per recipe.
Chef Cary Neff is the vice president of Corporate Culinary Services at Morrison Management Specialists and the author of the New York Times bestseller Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002).