Note from Jehv: It’s not every wedding you attend that you sit next to a fruit chemist. But it happened to me at the wedding of a friend who happens to be a fanatic fruit lover. No doubt this explains why I ended up sitting next to Lori Bystrom, PhD, a fruit chemist and medical researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College. Lori’s interest is phytochemistry, ethnopharmacognosy, hematology and oncology. Translation: she studies fruit chemistry to find health impacts on humans.
Lori visited us at Manhattan Fruitier a couple of weeks ago. She likes a break from academic writing so has promised a fruit post every month or so.
Since it’s cranberry season, her first post about the “superfruit,” the cranberry:
Cranberry: A Native “Superfruit” by Lori Bystrom (Nov. 2012)
It’s that time of year again when seas of red berries blanket many of the bogs across North America. The native North American berry, Vaccinium macrocarpon or the American cranberry, are in season now and a bog full of these buoyant berries indicates the fruits are ready for harvest.
Once harvested, cranberries are taken to processing plants where their fates are decided. These berries have a long history in North America and were used by the Native Americans as both medicine and food. Today they continue to be used this way and many different types of cranberry products are available in supermarkets across North America and beyond. Cranberries can be found in the organic and non-organic produce sections when in season, or found year-round as different juice concoctions in the beverage aisle. They can also be found in pill form near the pharmacy section. Most cranberry pills are advertised as promoting urinary health, although there is still some debate as to whether or not these fruits function as more than a prophylactic.
Cranberries are marketed as ‘superfruits’ due to their antioxidant content and potential health benefits. However, limited information is available about the biological mechanisms of these berries in regard to their health effects. Scientists continue to research the health benefits of cranberries, especially in relation to urinary tract infections, periodontal disease, ulcers and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease or cancer. Many of the current studies focus on the use of these fruits as a form of preventive medicine or as a complementary medicine used to improve the effectiveness of standard drugs. Updates on some this research can be found on the Cranberry Institute website and the Cranberry Research Health Center website at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
Cranberries are particularly interesting to researchers because they contain a unique class of tannins known as A-type proanthocyanidins, or “A-PACS”, whereas most plants contain B-type proanthocyanidins. Many of the unique biological effects of these fruits, including their effects on the urinary tract, are attributed to A-PACs . However, these fruits contain an array of other compounds with biological activities, including anthocyanins and flavonols, as well as compounds known as triterpenoids. Interestingly, research suggests the unique phytochemical mixture of these fruits may contribute to synergistic health effects.
Although much still remains to be known about the biological effects of cranberries, these red little berries offer a wonderful tart taste to both sweet and savory foods, and a plethora of studies already suggest that these fruits are likely to offer health benefits when consumed in moderation.