| Blueberry cassis shortcakes by pastry chef Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C.
“Blueberries hold a special place in the culinary universe,” Phyllis Korkki writes in the June 6, 2009, New York Times. “[It] is a food with few enemies. In fact, it has been called a superfruit. Its antioxidants have been said to help combat maladies including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia. For dieters, it has the virtue of satisfying a sweet tooth while being low in calories – one cup has about 80.”
It’s easy to assume this hype around blueberries is just “flavour of the month” hyperbole, but some pretty reputable organizations are serving up evidence to bolster the argument in favour of the big blue. Statistics Canada, in its 2004 Food Statistics Report, reveals that per capita consumption of antioxidant-rich cranberries and blueberries sits at 1.1 kilograms – a whopping increase of 52 per cent over consumption levels just two years prior.
| Blueberry-apricot pot pie by the U.S. Highblush Blueberry Council.
Meanwhile, a study by the USDA at the Tufts University Human Nutrition Center on Aging reports: “Blueberries are number one in antioxidant activity, surpassing 40 other fruits and vegetables in their ability to neutralize free radicals.” Also, freezing blueberries results in almost no antioxidant loss, making them powerful in various formats.
Even though vitamin C is usually the domain of citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits, a one-cup serving of blueberries can provide more than 30 per cent of recommended daily vitamin C intake. And if that weren’t enough, blueberries are also a good source of dietary fibre.
These scientific results are so compelling that blueberries have been classified as a “functional food” by Health Canada because they have “demonstrated physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutrition.”
Of particular interest to baby boomers is the blueberry’s potential to stave off mental deterioration associated with aging. Ruth Lowenberg, a registered dietitian with the British Columbia Blueberry Council, confirms that this research shows promise.
“Studies in test tubes and animals have indicated that a diet rich in blueberries can help slow deterioration in mental acuity and motor skills associated with aging,” she says, “and we’re hopeful that these results can be replicated in experiments with humans.”
When a bakery or food service operation examines its marketing strategy, ingredients with great public relations, such as blueberries, are well worth leveraging.
“The USDA research really got the ball rolling years ago,” Lowenberg says.
“Consumer demand and awareness has really taken off since then.”
Therefore, if blueberries are seen as one of the “healthy super foods,” then including them in a dish or baked good is likely to automatically impart this image onto the menu item.
“Blueberries tend to have a halo effect on food when used as an ingredient,” Lowenberg says. “Even something decadent like cheesecake will seem healthier if it’s made with blueberries.”
In addition to their great image, blueberries are very efficient to use.
“We tell people to remember that blueberries don’t require any processing to be used on the menu. Just rinse and add – no husking, cutting or peeling,” Lowenberg says. “Also, there’s no waste.”
Blueberries are also naturally sweet, encouraging less sugar to be used in recipes. However, blueberries are one of the more expensive fruits to purchase.
Much like wine-producing grape vines, it takes several years for a blueberry bush to begin producing viable fruit, so the farmer must invest years of tending with no return before the bush pays dividends.
“It’s also a case of supply and demand,” Lowenberg says.
The intense flavour and colour of the fruit generally means that less of it needs to be added to the recipe than other fruits to get the same effect on the palate, so some cost efficiencies could be gained from this attribute. Moreover, products containing blueberries might be able to command a higher price if the item is made with other quality ingredients.
Canadian provinces such as British Columbia and the Maritimes are famous for their blueberry production. Blueberries tap into the passion around eating local and indigenous foods. With August being National Blueberry Month in Canada, the fruit should be readily available in its freshest form, and the Blueberry Council is ready to support interested parties with marketing materials to help promote menu items made with blueberries.
“If support is needed to promote National Blueberry Month in August, when the berries are at peak season, the council would entertain requests for [promotional] elements to sit on tabletops or link to menus,” Lowenberg says.
Consumers are ready to seek medicinal benefits outside the pharmacy and they are following the media attention around functional foods avidly. If you want to win this game, it makes sense to send in your strongest players – and blueberries fit the bill. You may just decide that it’s good to have “the blues.”
New blueberry products surge
North American food manufac-turers are rapidly increasing development of blueberry-containing products. According to a U.S. Highblush Blueberry Council report, as of July 2008 more than 929 new blueberry-containing products were produced in Canada, the United States and Mexico, compared to 818 at this same time the previous – a gain of 13.56 per cent. In 2007, 1,448 new blueberry-containing products were launched – compared to only 41 in 1997.
The blueberry excitement is spreading worldwide: As of the end of July 2008, 2,048 new blueberry products were introduced around the world compared to 1,792 in the same period in 2007 (a 14.286 per cent increase). In 2007, 3,301 blueberry containing products were introduced worldwide. This is compared to only 69 worldwide blueberry-containing products recorded in 1997. Apart from the U.S. and Canada, the most active new product development has occurred in the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Italy, Finland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Norway.
On the Web: U.S./North American Highblush Blueberry Council: www.blueberrycouncil.org
B.C. Blueberry Council: