Latin name: Vaccinium section Cyanococcus
Uses: fresh/frozen fruit, preserves, flavoring
This bushy member of the heath family (Ericaceae) is a thornless, scrubby addition to many garden plots. The wild varieties, known as “lowbush” blueberries, grow on shorter and more rangy bushes, whereas the bushes of tamed varieties tend to be taller (making the fruit easier to pick) and are thus called “highbush” blueberries. A true botanical berry, blueberries are a small, thin-skinned fruit containing many edible seeds with a soft bloom of powdery wax on the skin. Blueberries are cousins to cranberries, huckleberries, bilberries, and lingonberries.
Why is blueberry healthy?
Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins K and C. They remain one of the most popular, nutritious, and antioxidant-rich fruits in the world. Studies have shown that blueberries can improve heart and brain health, improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and protect against certain types of cancer. Be sure and purchase organic blueberries to get the most nutritional benefit — or grow them yourself.
What does blueberry taste like?
Sweet and fragrant with a lightly acidic finish. Less-ripe fruit is pleasantly tart, very ripe fruit is wholly sweet. The primary aromatic compounds present in blueberries are those that contribute to the distinct aroma of truffles and the spiciness of ginger, galangal, and bay.
Where does blueberry grow?
Blueberries grow throughout the temperate and circumboreal regions of the world, mostly in North America, Europe, and Asia. Canada and the United States are the world’s top producers of lowbush and highbush blueberries, respectively. Like most of their Vaccinium kin, blueberries prefer acidic, well-drained, loamy soils on cooler sites. Try adding coffee grounds to the soil if you want to grow them in your own garden.
How do I prepare blueberry and what do I pair it with?
You can eat them raw any time, but the best-loved uses for blueberries tend to be breakfast: muffins, pancakes, and coffee cake. Blueberries make superb tarts and pies — the first Frisbee prototype was evidently based on a pan that had held a blueberry pie — because their high pectin content allows the sauce to thicken without adding starch.
Their natural pectin also makes them ideal for jams and compotes (try swirling blueberry compote into honey-sweetened mascarpone or on a cheesecake). As a close relative of wild huckleberries, blueberries are often paired with salmon and game meats like duck and venison. They also love lemon zest and nutmeg and go especially well with elderflower — use this flavor combo to your advantage in cocktails.
In the 19th century, bog blueberries were reputed to cause headaches and giddiness. A fungus on the skin likely caused the ailment rather than the fruit itself, but the berries were occasionally used in England, Siberia, and Sweden as a buzz-inducing additive to beer and spirits.