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Blueberry season in the United States typically starts in mid-May and ends in September/October. The peak of harvest is in July – aptly dubbed “National Blueberry Month.” These deep-color fruits are rich are rich in nutrients and flavor, low in calories, and are very beneficial to health.
The blueberry is the fruit of a family of shrubs that include the cranberry and bilberry. Interestingly, the berries are also related to non-edible plants such as the azalea and mountain laurel. They are native to North America where they grow in clusters and range in color from blue to a purple-black. It is this deep coloring that provides much of the berries nutritional value.
The coloring of blueberries is due to an antioxidant phytonutrient called anthocyanidin. These nutrients neutralize free radical damage from oxidative stress, a cause of heart disease, cancer, and eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma. Anthocyanins also enhance the effects of vitamin C making them a positive force in the immune system.
In addition to antioxidant nutrients, blueberries are also rich in vitamin C (25% of the recommended daily value), manganese, both soluble and insoluble fiber, and vitamin E. One cup contains about 80 calories.
When purchasing blueberries, choose those that are firm and have a uniform hue – avoid those that look dull in color. Shake the container to ensure they move around freely. If they do not, this may indicate that they are damaged or moldy. Look for moisture in the package which can cause faster spoilage.
Store blueberries in a covered container in the refrigerator, where they will keep for about a week. Ripe berries can also be frozen, but be sure to wash, drain, and remove any damaged berries before placing in the freezer. Frozen, they should last for about a year.
Before eating or using in recipes, be sure to wash them carefully, but thoroughly. Berries are among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues are most frequently found. If you can, choose organic, but still be sure to wash before eating.
Try some of these ideas for incorporating blueberries into your diet (from the US Highbush Blueberry Council:
- Whirl fresh or frozen blueberries in your morning smoothie and sprinkle them on cereal.
- Heat blueberries in maple syrup to pour on pancakes or waffles.
- Sprinkle dried blueberries on chicken salad.
- Perk up your yogurt snack with a handful of blueberries.
- Shake up your trail mix with dried blueberries.
- Substitute dried blueberries when a recipe calls for raisins.
- Add blueberries to a peanut butter sandwich and call it a PB-and-BB.
- Stir blueberry juice into iced tea or lemonade.
- Freeze blueberries and blueberry juice in ice cube trays to add to juice.
About.com’s Southern Food Guide Diana Rattray also has some wonderful blueberry recipes to try here.
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