It’s blueberry season in Louisiana

Richard Bogren, Reames, Elizabeth S.  |  1/4/2011 1:12:51 AM

News Release Distributed 06/11/10

Enjoying fresh Louisiana berries is a treat many people look forward to each year. Blueberries provide important nutrients that make them a healthful choice to enjoy at meals or as snacks, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.

A 2009 study by researchers at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center found that rats that ate a diet rich in blueberries gained health benefits that may lower their risk for heart disease and diabetes. These included lowered cholesterol levels, improved glucose control and decreased abdominal fat.

Lowering cholesterol reduces risk of heart disease while glucose control – the body’s ability to convert sugar to energy – is related to diabetes risk, Reames says. And increased abdominal fat is linked to increased risk for both heart disease and diabetes. But more research is needed to confirm these results in humans.

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

“The deep blue color of blueberries is from pigments, called anthocyanins, that act as antioxidants,” Reames says. “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, she says. Blueberries also are a good source of vitamin C and fiber. One-half cup of blueberries has only 42 calories.

Reames says that when selecting blueberries, you should 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,” she says. “Sweetness varies by variety.”

One pint of berries will provide four to five servings of fresh, uncooked fruit.

Her tips for storage and preparation include handling the fruit gently to avoid bruising, which shortens the life of fruit, and sorting them carefully to remove berries that are too soft or decayed.

You can store berries loosely in a shallow container to allow air circulation and to prevent the berries on top from crushing those underneath, she says. But don’t wash berries before refrigerating them because they’ll get mushy.

“Store blueberries in covered containers in a cool, moist area of the refrigerator, such the crisper, to help extend the usable life of the fruit,” Reames says. She says the recommended storage time is three to five days, but unwashed berries may keep up to 2 weeks when stored properly.

Before eating berries or using them in your favorite recipe, remove the stems then wash them gently in cool running water and drain.

You can freeze blueberries without washing them, Reames says. When they’re washed before freezing, blueberry skins become tough.

To freeze blueberries, remove the stems and trash, package them tightly in freezer bags or containers or glass jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal them airtight and freeze. When you remove them from the freezer, rinse the berries in cold water and use them immediately.

“You can use frozen berries directly from the freezer,” Reames says. “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 them.”

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

Additional information about blueberries and other fruits and vegetables is available from the LSU AgCenter office in your parish.

Rick Bogren

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