Cranberry Cooking Tips

Add this fruit to your sweet and savory dishes with confidence

Cranberries
© 2014 Ming Tang-Evans/Getty Images

Although cranberries are associated with holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and often are only eaten as canned cranberry sauce, this fresh or dried fruit is a great ingredient to add to both sweet and savory recipes all year round. Cranberries are wonderful in homemade sauces, jellies, and baked goods, as well as a variety of savory dishes.

But before you dive into a recipe, it is best you have a few tips under your belt so you can utilize this tart, little red fruit to its advantages.

Neutralize the Acid

There is no getting around it—cranberries are tart. One way cooks counteract this is to add sugar to the recipes. However, there are already about 4 grams of sugar in one cup of cranberries, and there is also added sugar to cranberry-related products like Craisins. If you'd rather not increase the sugar content, you can add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda when cooking cranberries to help neutralize the acid. After incorporating, take a taste and you'll probably find you will need to add no—or less—sugar. 

Cook and Prepare Cranberries Properly

When using fresh cranberries, if you are not adding them to a baked good you will need to cook them on the stovetop. It is important that you don't overcook them or they will turn to mush, and will also turn bitter. Cranberries should be cooked only until they pop or split, which usually happens in under 10 minutes over medium heat. Keep an eye and ear on the pot to make sure you remove it from the heat at the right time.

When you don't have fresh cranberries but need them for a specific recipe, you can use dried cranberries—you just have to rehydrate them first. Reconstitute dried cranberries like you would raisins; simply soak the cranberries in hot water and let them stand for 15 to 20 minutes and strain before using in a recipe. For added flavor, soak the cranberries in fruit juice or liquor instead of water.

Prep Cranberries Differently

We may not think of changing the texture of cranberries, but they can easily be chopped up by pulsing in a food processor. This new consistency is a great idea for a simple and fresh cranberry salad. Then, you can also chop up other fruits and nuts like mandarin oranges and pecans.

Frozen fresh cranberries will last for about a year in the freezer. Although sometimes recipes will suggest to thaw and drain before using, frozen cranberries do not need to be defrosted before using them for cooking, salads, and relishes.

Substitute Cranberries for Other Fruit

Whether fresh or dried, cranberries can take the place of other fruits in a recipe. And easy swap is using sweetened, dried cranberries for raisins; this will bring a nice tangy twist to the dish. Try them in a bread pudding, classic carrot salad, or pumpkin walnut bread.

Fresh cranberries can also be substituted for certain fruits. Consider using cranberries in place of pomegranates in a delicious chutney, or as the fruit in a Southern cherry cobbler. A cherry custard cake would be great with cranberries, as would a cherry crumb cake with sugar crumb topping.

Think Outside the Box

When we see that bag of fresh cranberries in the supermarket, our first thought is probably a sweet cranberry sauce for the holiday table. But this fruit can do so much more. Cranberries are great to add to desserts such as apple cranberry crisp, cranberry cake bars with pecans, cranberry upside-down cake, and cranberry crunch bar cookies with oranges and oats.

They can also be the star in a variety of breads and muffins, from iced cranberry orange bread, to cranberry orange muffins with pecans to cranberry scones with orange zest.

But desserts and breakfast sweets aren't the only place for cranberries. This fruit adds a nice tartness and subtle sweetness to several savory dishes. Chicken with cranberry sauce and pork loin with cranberry apple sauce use canned cranberry sauce but you can substitute fresh cranberries if you like. For something sweet and tart, try salmon with cranberry sauce, featuring the fresh flavors of citrus, or meatballs in a cranberry pineapple sauce.

If you are looking for an interesting way to use dried cranberries, Israeli couscous with dried cranberries and toasted almonds is a flavorful and colorful dish, as is chicken salad with apples and cranberries.

Add Nutrition to Recipes

There are many health benefits to consuming cranberries. For example, cranberry juice helps with urinary tract infections and cavity and gum disease prevention. Cranberries also provide antioxidants, stroke, and cardiovascular disease prevention, and are a great source of fiber, manganese, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Dried cranberries have the same nutritional value as those fresh, particularly in fiber and antioxidants. If you want to limit your fructose and sugar levels, you can use raw cranberries in recipes like fresh relishes, salads, and smoothies.