Cranberries are beautiful, but boy do they pack a mean sour punch. We usually consume cranberries in the form of sauce after it has been boiled down with heaps of sugar, or dried cranberries as a tasty and handy snack. Sometimes we'll have cranberries in juice, and then possibly mix this juice with vodka, lime and ice and give it a fancy urban chic name – The Cosmopolitan.
We have all heard about how healthy cranberries are. They are not, however, healthy in any of the aforementioned ways – and yes, dried included.
Health Benefits of Fresh Cranberries
The health benefits of cranberries are rather astounding. Like their cousin the blueberry, they are powered up with anti-oxidants. They are most well known for their ability to treat and prevent urinary tract and bladder infections and have also been linked to preventing kidney stones, lowering cholesterol, reducing oral diseases, helping gastro disorders and even preventing stroke and some cancers.
With that said, when was the last time you ate a hardy handful of fresh cranberries? The answer is likely never. Why? Because these radiant red berries are the tartest, sourest little devils. So how do you use them when they're in season! Well, as it turns out, there are a quite a few ways!
7 Uses For Fresh Cranberries
If you want to eat cranberries in their fresh, whole food form, there are a number of ways to consume them.
- Smoothies. Toss frozen cranberries in with your favourite smoothie recipe, or with other berrries in a smoothie.
- Juice. Juice your cranberries, or buy plain unsweetened cranberry juice. Add your favourite natural sweetener, or down it as a shot.
- Oatmeal/Porridge. Throw a handful into your porridge in the morning and cook everything together.
- Baked Goods. Cook them into muffins, breads, bars or fruit crumbles.
- Mocktails. Make a cranberry simple syrup, or add a couple of frozen cranberries to a glass of kombucha.
- Cooked Grains or Stuffing. Cook a few cranberries with your rice, quinoa, wild rice, millet or buckwheat, or incorporate them into your favourite stuffing recipe.
- Cranberry Jam or Chutney. Create a low-sugar jam using a small amount of maple syrup, honey or coconut sugar, or mix cranberries with other seasonal sweet fruits like apples. Or, try a savory chutney with onions, garlic, ginger and apple cider vinegar.
How to Make Dried Cranberries
A few years ago, just after the holidays, fresh cranberries were on sale everywhere. I bought four bags and stuck them in my freezer with the plan that I would dehydrate them myself and have fresh dried cranberries without any preservatives or sweeteners.
So I defrosted them, soaked them for about 4 hours in maple syrup (they needed some sweetness right?), sliced them in half, spread them out on a dehydrator tray, stuck them in my dehydrator and left them alone.
Eight hours later, they were done. So exciting. I took a handful and popped them in my mouth and holy Dinah! SOUR. They were little pellets of sour.
What did I learn from this? The sweet dried cranberries we buy at the store are saturated in sugar – whether with regular sugar or sweetened with apple juice . There are so many other naturally sweet dried fruits available that store-bought dried cranberries were excommunicated from my cupboard.
But that doesn't mean you can't make homemade dried cranberries. You'll get all of the benefits, without the sugar cornucopia. They are definitely going to be sour, but they're perfect for when you want to add a bit of tartness to a dish, in your granola or trail mix, or on a smoothie bowl.
Yield: 2 cup
- 4 cups fresh cranberries, sliced in half
- ½ cup maple syrup
- Cut your cranberries in half, then toss with the maple syrup.
- Spread the cranberries out on your dehydrator sheets, then dehydrate at 115 degrees for 8-10 hours.
- If you don't have a dehydrator, spread the cranberries on a parchment-lined baking sheet and dry at your oven's lowest temperature until dry. This may take anywhere from 2-4 hours.
How about you? Do you have any other ideas for using fresh cranberries? Please share in the comments.
Header photo: iStock/Magone