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Blueberry Blitz in Louisiana

Blueberry production in Louisiana and many southeastern states is increasing as consumer demand for this fruit grows. This time of the year consumers can find ripe, fresh blueberries at grocery stores, farmers markets and u-pick farms. You can find local growers through MarketMaker. The sweet berries can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, but their claim to fame is the health benefit they provide.

A lot of antioxidants in a little berry

Blueberries are important in maintaining good health, according to LSU AgCenter nutrition specialist Heli Roy. The blueberry’s deep color signals the presence of anthocyanins – antioxidants that help keep us healthy.

“Blueberries really are a super food,” Roy said. “Anthocyanins in blueberries kill cancer cells, help prevent cardiovascular disease by keeping blood more fluid and regulate glucose levels.”

Blueberries neutralize free radicals – highly reactive compounds – in our bodies and help prevent their damage.

As we age, our bodies go through a “rusting” effect, Roy said. “Antioxidants in blueberries help prevent us from rusting.”

Citing a recent Pennington Biomedical Research Center study, LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames said consuming two cups of blueberries a day can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes for people who have pre-diabetes and a family risk of diabetes.

Blueberries also are being studied to determine if they can slow aging and improve brain function.

Make blueberries a part of meals and snacks

In addition to their strong health benefits, a half cup of blueberries has only 42 calories, making them a great option for controlling weight.

Blueberries can fit into a diet in a variety of ways, and Roy said they retain their nutritional content when cooked.

For breakfast, sprinkle them over cereal, yogurt, cottage cheese or granola. Cook them in pancakes or bake them in muffins and bread. At lunch or dinner, blueberries can be enjoyed in a salad or cooked into a sauce to pour over meat or fish. They also can be consumed fresh, by the handful.

The anthocyanins in blueberries are fat soluble, so it’s OK to enjoy them in a muffin or in a salad with oil in the dressing.

“Consuming a little fat with the blueberries, makes the anthocyanins more absorbable,” Roy said.

When it comes to selecting berries, Reames offers these tips:

– Look for berries that are plump and firm with a dark blue color and a frosty bloom.

– Blueberries do not ripen after harvest, so as soon as you buy them, you can eat them.

– Sweetness varies by variety. One pint of berries will provide four to five servings of fresh, uncooked fruit.

Reames also has these tips for storage and preparation:

– Handle fruit gently to avoid bruising. Bruising shortens the life of fruit.

– Sort berries carefully and remove any that are too soft or decayed.

– Store berries loosely in a shallow container to allow air circulation and to prevent the berries on top from crushing those underneath.

– Do not wash berries before refrigerating because they’ll get mushy. Store covered containers of berries in a cool, moist area of the refrigerator, such the vegetable crisper, to help extend the usable life of the fruit. Recommended storage time is three to five days, but unwashed berries may keep up to two weeks when stored properly.

– Before eating berries or using in them your favorite recipe, remove stems, wash berries gently in cool running water an

d drain.

You can freeze blueberries without washing, Reames says. When washed before freezing, blueberry skins become tough. To freeze, remove stems and trash, and package them tightly in freezer bags or containers or glass jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Then, seal the container airtight and put it in the freezer.

When you remove blueberries from the freezer, rinse them in cold water and use them immediately.

“You can use frozen berries directly from the freezer,” Reames said. “There’s no need to thaw them if you use them in baked products, except for pancakes. Pancakes may not cook thoroughly in the center if the berries are frozen. Microwave the amount you need for a few seconds to thaw.”

Loose-pack frozen blueberries are available year-round, and you can use them in any recipe that calls for fresh blueberries. Because they are washed, they can be used right from the package.

Blueberries from your backyard

Living in Louisiana makes it easy to receive the benefits that blueberries offer because they grow well here, according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill.

“Blueberries are one of the easiest of the home-fruiting plants to grow in Louisiana,” Gill said. “They require little maintenance. About all they need is acid soil with good drainage.”

The ideal planting time for blueberries in Louisiana is during the cool months from October through about March. The plants are cold-tolerant and are not affected by Louisiana winter weather.

It is best to plant more than one variety. They cross-pollinate, which means more fruit that also are larger.

“Often nurseries will have plants in three-to-five gallon containers nearly large enough to start producing,” Gill said. “Growers don’t like to hear me say this, but we recommend taking off fruit the first year, so there is not as much stress on the plant.”

To learn more about planting and growing blueberries, check out Louisiana’s home blueberry production publication.

All about blueberries

You can learn “all about blueberries” by visiting eXtension.org’s blueberry site. The all about blueberries site is designed to teach people in the southeastern United States how to grow the berries while encouraging consumers to eat more blueberries.

The LSU AgCenter received a $518,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s specialty crop initiative to work with four other universities to develop the educational website.

Tobie Blanchard

The LSU AgCenter is one of 11 institutions of higher education in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life through its 4-H youth, family and community programs.

Last Updated: 6/25/2012 2:47:47 PM

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