Cranberry Cooking Tips

© 2014 Ming Tang-Evans/Getty Images

Cranberries can be described as a small collection of evergreen dwarf shrubs or vines. Wild cranberries are found in many parts of eastern Canada, Northeastern New England, the upper Midwest, and more. Although cranberries are associated with holidays like Christmas, they are also a great snack or ingredient for delicious recipes. In fact, cranberries are a fall fruit that always seems to get relegated to the canned cranberry sauce cubbyhole in our minds.

With fresh cranberries available in the fall, cooks can try branching out to use these tart berries in homemade sauces and jellies ​and savory dishes.

Nutritional Advantages

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 than those of fresh ones, particularly in fiber and antioxidants. Those wanting to limit fructose and sugar levels can use raw cranberries in their recipes like fresh relishes, salads, and smoothies.

The Process of Cranberry Harvesting

Cranberries grow on vines in boggy areas. Fresh whole berries are hand-picked and are thus more expensive. The remainder is harvested by machine.

Damage to the berries from the machines is unavoidable, making them suitable only for juices, sauces, and drying. The bogs are kept dry until harvest time and are then are flooded with water to a knee-deep level. Special machines run through the bog, shaking the vines to loosen the berries which are then skimmed off.

The berries are then bounced down a stair-stepped processor to cull out the old berries (which do not bounce) from the fresh.

Great for the Sweet and Salty

Cranberries are good not only in desserts but also in savory dishes. Some delicious cranberry desserts include variations of apple crisp, ambrosia, nut bars, and turtle dessert. Savory dishes with cranberries to consider include pumpkin and cranberry crostinis with maple and brie, cranberry chipotle bbq pulled pork sliders, and a fall-inspired spinach salad.

Neutralize Acid

There's about four grams of sugar in one cup of cranberries. There is also added sugar to cranberry-related products like Craisins with the goal of sweetening it up. To help neutralize the acid, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda when cooking cranberries. This way, you'll find you will need less sugar. 

Use Substitutions

Try substituting sweetened, dried cranberries for raisins in recipes for a tangy change. Certain recipes like a relish or a chutney can be replaced with fresh fruit like cherries, pomegranates, or other dried fruit.

Soak Dried Cranberries

Rehydrating dried cranberries is great when you don't have fresh cranberries but need them for a specific recipe. You can reconstitute dried cranberries like you would with raisins.

Simply soak the cranberries in hot water and let them stand for 15 to 20 minutes.

Cook Until They Pop

Cranberries should be cooked only until they pop or split. Otherwise, they not only begin to turn to mush, but they also turn bitter. This usually happens after about 10 minutes over medium heat.

Don't Defrost

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

Chop Them Up

Cranberries are easily chopped by pulsing in a food processor. This is a great idea for a simple and fresh cranberry salad. In this case, simply pulse the cranberries until they are evenly chopped. Then, you can take turns chopping added fruits and nuts like mandarin oranges and pecans.