LSU AgCenter Nutritionist Recommends Blueberries For Flavor Nutrition

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  4/19/2005 10:28:39 PM

They’re the No. 1 antioxidant, flavorful, loaded with nutrients and in season. What could be better than blueberries?

News You Can Use For June 2004 

Enjoy Louisiana blueberries, advises LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames. Blueberries are nature's number one source of antioxidants among fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

"Antioxidants help neutralize harmful by-products of metabolism called free radicals that contribute to heart disease and other chronic diseases," Reames says, adding, "Blueberries are a low-calorie food, a good source of fiber and a terrific addition to many recipes."

Anthocyanins, the pigments giving blueberries their deep blue hue, act as antioxidants, which may provide many health benefits. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C and fiber. One-half cup of blueberries has only 40 calories.

In addition, blueberries contain compounds that may help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), according to a report from the Rutgers Blueberry Cranberry Research Center in Chatsworth, New Jersey. The compounds, called condensed tannins, can keep the bacteria responsible for UTIs from attaching to the linings of the urinary and digestive tracts.

Blueberries were once called "star berries" because of the star-shaped calyx on the top of each berry.

The Rabbiteye blueberry is most successfully grown in the South. Some varieties of Rabbiteye begin ripening the first week of June and others through the early part of July. Blueberries from other parts of the country are plentiful in supermarkets in July and August.

"The soils in many parts of Louisiana tend to be acid, and this is perfect for growing Rabbiteye blueberries," says "Get It Growing" author and LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill.

The horticulturist says blueberry bushes are excellent for small gardens, since they stay much smaller than most fruit trees. Plants need a spacing of only about 6 feet. Gill recommends Tifblue, Woodard, Climax, Premier and Choice blueberry cultivars. Southern highbush blueberry cultivars, such as Cooper, Gulfcrest, Blue Ridge and Cape Fear, also may be planted.

Reames says to look for berries that are dark blue, with a frosty bloom. Store fresh blueberries in your refrigerator for up to two weeks, and wash them just before you use them; otherwise, they'll get mushy. Loose-pack frozen blueberries are available year-round, and you can use them in any recipe that calls for fresh blueberries. Since they are pre-washed, they can be used right from the package.

Blueberries should be plump and firm with a dark blue color and waxy, silvery "bloom." Sweetness varies by variety. Blueberries do not ripen after harvest, so as soon as you buy them, you can eat them. One pint of berries will provide four to five servings of fresh uncooked fruit.

Storage & Preparation

Handle fruit gently to avoid bruising. Bruising shortens the life of fruit and contributes to low quality. Sort carefully and remove berries which 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.

Store covered containers of berries in a cool, moist area of the refrigerator, such as in the hydrator (vegetable keeper), to help extend the usable life of the fruit. Recommended storage time is three to five days.

Before eating berries or using in your favorite recipe, wash berries gently in cold water, lift out of water and drain.

Freeze blueberries without washing. When washed before freezing, blueberry skins become tough. To freeze, remove stems and trash, package tightly in freezer bags or containers or glass jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Seal airtight and freeze. Remove from freezer, rinse in cold water and use immediately.

Use frozen berries directly from the freezer. 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.

Tips for Using Blueberries

Breakfast: toss blueberries into your favorite hot or cold cereal, add blueberries when making pancakes, muffins, breakfast breads and waffles or add blueberries to non-fat yogurt, or pile blueberries into a cantaloupe half.

• Snacking: eat blueberries out of hand, make a blueberry blender drink with non-fat yogurt, mix blueberries with non-fat cottage cheese, drop frozen blueberries in sparkling water for a refreshing summer drink.

• Meals: sprinkle blueberries into fruit or green salads, make a tangy blueberry sauce to serve with poultry, fish and meat.

• Desserts: use blueberries as a topping on angel food cake, make a blueberry sauce for fruit or sorbet desserts, serve a dish of blueberries for dessert, spoon over low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt, make a blueberry cobbler or pie.

Blueberry Sauce

Serves 8 (1/4-cup servings)

Ingredients: 2 cups fresh or frozen wild blueberries, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1/2 cup water, l teaspoon lemon juice, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon.

Directions: Add water to berries; heat until warm. Combine cornstarch, sugar and cinnamon; stir into berry mixture. Stir and cook until mixture is thickened and clear. Add lemon juice and mix. Use as a topping on pancakes, waffles, ice cream, pudding or angel food cake.

For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension/
Departments/fcs/.  For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
Extension/Departments/fcs/

Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu

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