Elizabeth S. Reames | 6/25/2008 1:44:25 AM
It's time to enjoy Louisiana blueberries. Luckily, blueberries are nature's No. 1 source of antioxidants among more than 50 fresh fruits and vegetables tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames explains antioxidants are compounds that protect cells against damage by free radicals that form in the body. Uncontrolled free radical formation can cause cell damage that may lead to cancer, heart disease, inflammation and other health problems.
Blueberries’ deep blue color comes from pigments called anthocyanins that act as antioxidants. Blueberries also are a good source of vitamin C and fiber. One-half cup of blueberries has only 42 calories.
Reames says the Rabbiteye blueberry is the most successfully grown type 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.
Reames says to look for berries that are dark blue with a frosty bloom. Store them 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 already washed, you can use them right from the package.
Blueberries also should be plump and firm with a 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 provides four to five servings of fresh uncooked fruit.
Storage and preparation
Handle the berries gently to avoid bruising them. Bruising shortens their life and contributes to low quality. Sort them carefully, and remove berries that are too soft or decayed. Store them 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 them in covered containers in a cool, moist area of the refrigerator, such as in the hydrator (vegetable keeper), to help extend their usable life. Reames recommends a storage period of three to five days, at most.
Before eating berries or using them in your favorite recipe, wash them gently in cold water, lift them out of the water and drain.
Reames advises not washing blueberries if you’re going to freeze them. When washed before freezing, blueberry skins become tough.
To freeze them, remove stems and trash, and package them tightly in freezer bags, plastic containers or glass jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal them airtight, and then freeze them.
When you’re ready to use them, remove them from the freezer, rinse in cold water and use immediately. 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 just a few seconds to thaw.
For more information about blueberries and related nutrition topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter home page at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.