What Are Mulberries?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

what are mulberries

Getty Images / BURCU ATALAY TANKUT

Contrary to the childhood song, mulberries grow on trees, not bushes. These fast-growing trees produce a massive amount of fruit each season, ranging in color from white to deep red to almost black. Mulberries, which are found in China and most of the U.S., are delicate berries. That's why you're most likely to taste them in jam or syrup form (or, increasingly, dried) rather than fresh. They just aren't made to withstand long journeys.

What Are Mulberries?

You may have encountered these fruits before without realizing it: The darker versions of this soft fruit leave their telltale, wine-colored stains on sidewalks and fingertips. The trees are prodigious, easy to grow, and can flourish in temperate to tropical regions around the world. Birds love them, too. They resemble elongated blackberries.

Mulberries are known botanically as Morus, a genus of flowering plants in the family Moraceae. The most common types are white mulberry (native to China but found in the 48 contiguous United States); black mulberry (native to western Asia, also grows in Europe); and the American or red mulberry (native to the eastern U.S.).

Fun facts: The white refers to the buds, not the fruit color, and it was introduced into America to support the silkworm industry; it's the only food they eat.

These berries are thin-skinned and need some TLC as they are highly perishable—factors that contribute to their price and the need for immediate use.

How Do You Use Mulberries?

Fresh berries are, of course, the most delicious, and if you happen to have a mulberry tree in your yard, or you can forage them easily, or come upon them at a farmers market, you'll need to use them up. Turn them into jam, smoothies, cobblers, dessert sauces, and mulberry wine. Nature can definitely help satisfy your sweet tooth, as mulberry pie or even ice cream might do the trick.

The white variety is growing in popularity as a superfood sold in health food stores. Dried mulberries are excellent in smoothies, trail mix, oatmeal, granola, and right out of the bag as a snack.

What Do They Taste Like?

The taste ranges from very sweet for the white variety, to tart-sweet for the darker varieties. You can eat any of them out of hand, but what they may seem to lack in a balance of sweet-to-tart flavors, they make up for in abundance.

Dried mulberries are intensely sweet and are unique additions to granola and trail mix.

Mulberry Recipes

These berries can be used in all manner of desserts, from pies and cobblers to syrups and jams. Feel free to substitute them in recipes calling for blackberries or raspberries. You might have to adjust the sugar content, depending on the recipe; blackberries have more of a sweet-tart balance.

Where to Buy Mulberries

For all their deliciousness, mulberries are delicate, perishable, labor-intensive to pick, and don't all ripen at the same time. All of these factors contribute to the difficulty of commercially growing and harvesting these berries. They aren't the kind of berry you'll typically find in the grocery store, unless it's a local specialty or gourmet outlet.

When they are ripe, you can harvest them by hand if you are lucky enough to have a tree. Place a tarp underneath the tree and gently shake the branches to loosen the ripe fruit. Some may come off, some may stay; they don't all ripen at the same time, and some that are ripe may need a little coaxing off their stems. Otherwise, it's off to the farmers market or specialty grocer you go, where they can sometimes fetch high prices.

Dried mulberries are often sold at health food stores or natural, organic grocery chains, sometimes in the bulk section. They can also be purchased online in bulk.

Storage

If you can manage not to eat them all, they'll keep in the fridge for two to three days, unwashed, and in a covered container.

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And when mulberry trees produce more fruit than you can consume, or perhaps you get lucky and score a surplus through your own devices (friends with trees, maybe?), you make jam. But there's only so much you can make.

That's where freezing comes in. These berries will keep for six months in the freezer. Pop them frozen into smoothies or prep them in a yogurt-granola parfait in the fridge, where they can defrost and their color and flavor will naturally permeate the yogurt.

Nutrition and Benefits

The benefits of mulberries include a high concentration of resveratrol, a type of polyphenol, which acts much like an antioxidant and therefore possesses a host of anti-inflammatory properties.

They are a good source of raw food protein, a rare bonus in the fruit world, along with magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, iron, calcium, vitamin C, and fiber.

Mulberries are touted in traditional medicines among Asian and Native American peoples as a remedy for insomnia, constipation, ringworm, arthritis, and tapeworm.

Mulberries vs. Blackberries

These two fruits can easily be confused and substituted in recipes, but let's break it down. Mulberries look like an elongated blackberry, with an almost oval shape. Blackberries are almost round. Mulberries, if they aren't white, come in red to dark purple, whereas blackberries range in color from very dark purple to black—hence, the name.

Mulberries grow on deciduous trees, whereas blackberries grow on prickly shrubs. When you pick them, blackberries will usually leave their stem with the plant, and the spongy middle it attaches to stays inside the fruit, whereas the mulberry may take some of the stem with it when picked.