Berries: How to Buy, Store & Cook the Original Superfood
Thank you to the Berry Health Benefits Symposium, who hosted me as a conference guest
America has a voracious appetite for all things bright, shiny, and new. Often the trendiest diets and hottest superfoods get all the glory when what should really grab our eye is right in front of us. That’s what crossed my mind a few weeks ago as I attended a three-day conference on the nutritional benefits of berries. The conference invited researchers to share their studies about these tiny, nutrient-dense wonders. The science is compelling, to say the least, and a reminder of why brain health expert Annie Fenn aims to eat berries everyday: they’re just darn good for us.
As a category, berries are known for being a source of fiber and vitamin C, both important elements of a healthy diet. But it’s really their phytochemicals, most notably their anthocyanins (responsible for that colorful hue), that make berries such a powerhouse of nutrition. Research has found berries may help prevent or delay a range of chronic inflammatory conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Studies have also found berries can play a role in preventing urinary tract infections, promoting gut health, and increasing cognitive function in kids. There’s even research that demonstrates berries may have the potential to offset environmental damage to our skin when used topically (who’s up for a blueberry mask?).
So with all that in mind, the question becomes, how to buy, store, and use berries on a regular basis. Below you’ll find my thoughts on making the most of every basket. I’d love to hear your tips, tricks, and recipes for using berries, too, so feel free to share in the comments section below.
From the first spring strawberries in California to the late summer wild blueberries in Maine, we think of berries as a warm weather fruit. I recommend you take full advantage while they are fresh and so delicious at the peek of season. If you can, get them on the cheap at the farmers’ market. Freeze what you don’t use by spreading them in one layer on a baking sheet, store in the freezer until rock solid, then pile into a resealable bag or storage container. You can always find excellent, affordable fruit in the freezer section of the market, too. Freezing actually preserves the nutrients in berries spectacularly well and makes an easy, ready source for cooking.
A Word on Washing
When buying fresh berries, refrain from washing them until just before using. They’re like delicate little sponges and washing can hasten mold. When you’re ready to wash, be gentle. Put them in a colander and run water over them. Transfer to a plate or shallow dish rather than piling in a deep bowl to avoid crushing them.
How to Store Berries
I’ve had the best luck keeping berries by transferring them to a container that’s lined with a paper or cloth towel, ideally in a single layer. Store them uncovered in the refrigerator crisper drawer.
Berry Recipe Ideas
The options for using berries in food prep are endless, from eating them out of hand to using them in elaborate confections. Here are 10 ideas for getting in your daily dose:
Serve as a sauce — Gently cook any fresh or frozen berries — along with a touch of honey and a pinch of salt — until they melt into a tangy sauce. It’s delicious spooned alongside grilled chicken or pork.
Try a PB & B — Swap out standard jam and use fresh berries on your nut butter sandwiches instead. Take it up a notch further and craft these fun Peanut Butter & Raspberry Toaster Tarts.
Make a smoothie — Fresh and frozen berries make magic in smoothies with little more than milk or yogurt and maybe a splash of maple syrup for sweetness. This Blueberry one is a good place to start.
Brighten your salad — Virtually any salad greens will benefit from the addition of berries. Bitter and/or delicate greens are excellent embellished with berries all summer long, including this Strawberry Arugula Salad.
Fold into muffins and pancakes — Berries in muffins and pancakes? That’s a no-brainer…but did you know you could use frozen as well as fresh? Here is mega-nourishing pancake recipe that is tasty with berries stirred into the batter or scattered over the top.
Crown your yogurt — I prefer to buy plain yogurt and add my own fruit rather than getting them pre-mixed (and often overly sweet). This Yogurt Parfait on a Plate is never disappoints.
Scatter onto sheet pan suppers — Enhance your savory recipes with the sweetness of berries, starting with this Chicken and Wild Blueberry Sheet Pan Supper.