Lingonberries, known by the scientific name Vaccinium vitis-idaea, are to Scandinavians what blackberries are to Americans. They are an abundant wild fruit free for the taking by anyone with a basket, a harvesting fork, and the patience to pick through and clean their harvest.
Produced by low, evergreen shrubs throughout Scandinavia's forests, the red berries are much smaller and juicier than their distant cousin, the cranberry, and closer in makeup to raspberries with a taste that’s sour, tart and bit sweet.
Lingonberries are the last berries to ripen in autumn. After the blueberries and bilberries of July and August, lingonberries do not come out until September.
Lingonberries are known as tyttebær in Norwegian and Danish, rauðber in Icelandic, puolukka in Finnish, and lingon in Swedish.
Looks Are Deceiving
Although lingonberries look bright red and attractive on the bushes, they are not good candidates for eating raw as they are quite bitter. Sugar transforms them into a concoction that goes well with game, meat, fish, and with several desserts.
How Early Scandinavians Used the Fruit
Bursting with natural preservatives and pectin, lingonberries were invaluable to earlier generations of Scandinavians, because they could be kept for months at room temperature simply by placing them in jars of water, called vattlingon, or by stirring the raw berries with a small amount of sugar to make rårörda lingon, an easy lingonberry jam with no cooking required.
How Lingonberries Are Used Today
In addition to the ubiquitous Norwegian pancakes, Swedish köttbullar (meatballs), kåldomar (stuffed cabbage rolls), raggmunk (potato pancakes), and fried herring served with lingonberry sauce or jam, this fruit is used in many other ways in modern cooking. Here are a few recipe ideas:
- Swedish Wolf's Paw Cocktail Recipe
- Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberry Preserves Recipe
- Christi Extreme Cocktail Recipe
- Scandinavian Sweet Soup Recipe
Hot rice pudding is traditionally served at Christmas in Sweden and is often accompanied by rårörda lingon.
Lingonberries are popular in various forms and products, such as wines, liqueurs, syrups, sauces, jams and jellies, cheesecakes, cocktails, soufflés, cakes, sherbet, ice cream, candies, and pickles.
Where to Find Lingonberries
If looking for lingonberries or lingonberry jam in ethnic European food markets, you also may find them called red whortleberries, cowberries, foxberries, mountain cranberries, mountain bilberries, or partridgeberries.
It's nearly impossible to find fresh lingonberries unless you can find an online purveyor, but frozen and canned lingonberries are widely available in the United States.
Health Benefits of Lingonberries
Lingonberry is part of the blueberry and cranberry family. Each of these superberries contains a ton of disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium. Lingonberries have been found to contain bacteria-fighting capabilities due to its antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory characteristics.
It has also been found that lingonberries, cloudberries, and others contain as much unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids as fish per unit of energy.
By consuming lingonberry, you may be able to help treat urinary tract infections, keep your mouth healthy, and potentially even prevent cancer cell growth, in addition to staving off other diseases and staph infections.