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  • Writer's pictureJenna B.

Know Your Ingredients Ep.3 Cranberry

Updated: May 4, 2022

Know Your Ingredients: Cranberry

Hello Everyone! Welcome back to Illustrator’s Kitchen!

Today’s Ingredient is… Cranberries!

These tangy and sour berries are beloved by especially many Americans during the holiday season.

Only 5 % of cranberries are sold as fresh. The rest are combined with other ingredients to become sauce, juice, or dried cranberries.

Interesting, right?

Late fall is cranberry season and here comes all about cranberries!

What is Cranberry?

Botanical name of American Cranberry: Vaccinium macrocarpon

Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to North America.

Native Americans used cranberries as a staple as early as 1550.

There are theories of how the berry was named, “cranberry”.

German and Dutch settlers named the plant “crane-berry” because the flower and the stem resembled a crane’s neck, head and beak.

Cranberries grow in a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs.

Top 5 cranberry States in U.S.

The 5 states are known for growing cranberries.

Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.

Since 1995, Wisconsin has produced the largest crop of cranberries (currently about 57% of the US’ total production!)

History of Cranberry:

Cranberry in 1550


Native Americans used cranberries as a staple.

They harvested wild cranberries and used them in a variety of foods, remedies and drinks.

Also, during winter months, berries were used in a nutrition dense energy bar-like food.

Cranberry in 1620

1620s: European settlers named the fruit, “cranberry”

because its flower looks like a crane!

Cranberry in 1816

1816: Commercial cranberry cultivation started in the United States.

Cranberry in 1912

1912: Cranberries are finally available in cans!

Cranberry in Future

Future: Cranberries are known for sour and tangy flavor,

but cranberries can be sweet in future!

Anatomy of Cranberry:

Did you know that cranberries are 90% water?

You may have seen Ocean Spray advertisements where people stand on wetland covered by tons of floating cranberries.

Cranberries have small pockets where air seeps into that allows them to float.

Cranberry Anatomy

Cranberries are very sour and bitter fruit.

Because of its taste, cranberries are not very much popular with most wild animals unlike many other fruits that are sweet to attract animals to eat them and distribute the seeds.

Then how did the cranberries spread out widely?

Answer is… cranberries used their air pockets!

Because a cranberry can float in the water, when mature fruit falls off the vine, the fruit is transported to another location due to water.

Health Benefit of Cranberries:

  • Cranberries are a good source of vitamins and antioxidants.

  • They are rich in vitamin C, Manganese, Vitamin E, Vitamin K1, and copper.

  • Cranberries are also well known for preventing UTI(Urinary tract infection).

*However, cranberries are not effective for treating infections. Go to the doctor or get a proper medicine for treating infections.

  • Cranberry also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease because it contains polyphenols.

*However, be aware of consuming cranberry products that contain a high amount of sugar. Because cranberries are sour, processed food such as dried cranberries, juices and sauces use sugar to increase sweetness.

It is always better buying fresh cranberries when they are in season and make your own cranberry products at home so that you can control the sugar ratio.

If you buy cranberry products in the market, read the ingredient and nutrition value for products with lower sugar.

Side Effects of Cranberries:

High consumption of cranberries may increase the risk of kidney stone in predisposed individuals.

How to Grow and Harvest Cranberries?

Cranberries are a unique fruit which grows on trailing vines like strawberries.

They can grow and survive only under a very special environment.

Cranberries grow in acid and layered soil with sand, peat, and gravel.

They also grow next to water.

That is why they are found in wetlands (nature’s sponges).

Wetlands like “bogs” or “marshes" were originally formed as a result of glacial deposits.

Natural bogs evolved from deposits left by the glaciers more than 10,000 years ago.

Cranberries are harvested in the fall, generally from mid-September through mid-November.

Cranberry in Spring

Spring: Grow

When the weather is getting warmer, bogs are drained and vines come out.

Cranberry in summer

Summer: Pollination

Pollination is a very crucial part of cranberry growing.

During the bloom time period (early June through mid-July), 1 or 2 bee hives per acre of cranberry bog are required for cranberry flower pollination.

“Similar to many other fruit crops, bees are needed for adequate pollination. Cranberry flowers are not capable of self fertilization so pollinators are required to move pollen from one flower to another.” - Anne Averill, Entomologist with U-Mass Cranberry Station

Cranberry in fall


Dry Harvest:

This is a traditional method of harvesting cranberries

but only about 5% of the crop is dry harvested.

Today, farmers pick the fresh fruit from dry vines by hand or they use bog vehicles or helicopters. We will see dry harvested cranberries as fresh fruits in the market.

“Even though fresh fruit represents a small fraction of the total harvested crop, it nevertheless is an important aspect of the cranberry industry and for many growers, a way of life.” -Massachusetts Cranberries Organization

Wet Harvest:

Most cranberries are wet harvested.

Because cranberries can float in water due to their air pockets, cranberry growers flood their bogs and use harvesting machines that loosen the cranberries from the vine.

Wet harvested cranberries are used for dried cranberries, juices, sauces, and other processed foods.

Cranberry in Winter


Cranberry bogs are flooded to protect the vines and buds from rough winter weather. A layer of sand and ice allows to stimulate growth and control weeds, insects and fungi.

There are three types of sanding.

Dry Sanding: Apply sand directly to the vines by a bog vehicle or by hand.

Ice Sanding: The sand is applied on the ice that forms on the winder flood.

Barge Sanding: The sand is applied by using a barge on a flooded bog.

How to select and store Cranberries?

Farmers harvest fresh cranberries in September and October. Thus, fall is the best time to get fresh cranberries.

When you select cranberries, choose firm to the touch and unwrinkled.

Fresh cranberries should be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed bag for up to a month.

Fresh cranberries can be frozen at home, and will keep up to almost a year.

They can be used directly into your cooking without thawing.

Some grocery stores carry frozen cranberries year around.

How to eat Cranberries?

There are many ways to enjoy cranberries.

Juice, dried cranberries, sauce, jam and more!

You can easily toss a salad with dried cranberries for chewy and sour texture.

Homemade cranberry sauce can go well with mashed potatoes and turkey.

Birds and Cranberries:

To be honest, cranberries are too sour, so not many birds like cranberries.

However, cranberries are a good source of antioxidants that help a bird's immune system.

There are some birds that eat cranberries.

Cardinals, Finches, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Jays, Titmice, Grosbeaks and Woodpeckers.

Cranberry Illustrator's Kitchen Illustration

This year, 2020 was very sour just like a cranberry. New Year, 2021 is coming soon.

Long ago, people made a strand of cranberries and popcorn for holiday decoration and also for delicious treats for birds and other animals especially during harsh winter time.

Let’s not forget to share love with the community and nature even when we go through darkest days.

I hope we find something or someone to thank and share love around us.

I thank you, my subscribers and readers!

I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Working on this blog for a year gave me a very positive energy.

I will be more productive next year and will meet you guys with more posts and more illustrations!

Thank you again and see you guys soon!

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1 Comment

Sue Kim
Sue Kim
Jan 03, 2021

Didn't know all these fun bits about cranberries! So insightful.

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