They may be little, but berries pack a big punch with their sweetly tart flavour and significant health benefits. It’s why they’re called superfruits.
As a chef, I’ve always likened the summer season and its fresh bounty to the return of an old friend who’s come for a visit: sure to leave, but just as sure to come again. June and July herald the return of the plentiful berries that can be found up and down our wild, west coast. Whether you’re a true forager, a garden enthusiast, a ‘U-Picker’ or someone who just waits to see them in the produce section, the season to savour these delectable fruit is upon us.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the definition of what a ‘true’ berry is (Did you know grapes, tomatoes and avocados are actually berries?), I ask that you suspend disbelief and focus instead on the commonly accepted definition that says a berry is a small edible fruit. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are the most common, but they only scratch the surface of the true variety available to us: loganberries, salmonberries, cranberries, currants, gooseberries, huckleberries, lingonberries, goji and açaí berries: the list goes on.
Humans and animals alike have long been foraging for berries. In fact, our palates have evolved in defense to toxic berries as our ability to taste bitterness has moved toward the back of our mouths. That’s where our autonomic nervous system reflexively disgorges these would-be poisons. Luckily, we find sweetness on the tips of our tongues, which helps us identify edible berries.
In fact, humans love the taste of berries so much, we’ve developed a vast mythology around them. Raspberries were said to have been discovered by the Greek gods on Mount Ida, which is reflected in their Latin name Rubus idaeus, meaning “bramble bush of Ida.” Strawberries are connected to Freyja, the Norse goddess of love, and many Pagan cultures have connected various berries to femininity, Mother Earth and to childbirth.
In our neck of the woods, berry production has been important since humans first inhabited this region. Aboriginal people developed pemmican, a nutrient-rich mixture of fat, wild game meat and berries. This food was later adopted by Europeans who saw it as a convenient, nutritious food for long journeys.
Today, the berry reigns supreme in the Pacific Northwest. We use berries for everything from wines, ports and beers, to pastries, pies and crumbles. But along with the obvious heavenly taste of berries, there are also significant health benefits.
Commonly referred to as ‘superfruits’ or ‘super-foods,’ berries are understood to be packed with healthful polyphenols, flavonoids, tannins and antioxidants. This nutrient-burst has helped their popularity soar in our health-conscious culture. Harvard researchers recently discovered that women who ate more than three servings of blueberries or strawberries a week had a 34 per cent lower heart attack risk than those who ate less berries.
A separate U.S. study of 16,000 women found those who ate lots of blueberries and strawberries go through a slower mental decline with age than women who consume fewer of these berries.
A Berry Love Affair
Fresh or dried, sweet or savoury, berries have found their way into our hearts and minds. Few things take us back to childhood summers as fast as a mouthful of the freshest in-season strawberries. And when summer is over, we can continue to enjoy berries in jams, jellies, chutneys and salsas … are you hungry yet? The right berry can add the perfect finishing touch to any dish!
By Buddy Wolfe