We had an interesting opportunity to participate in the Berry Health Benefits Symposium last week outside of Los Angeles.
No, until a few months ago we did not know there was a conference dedicated to berries either! but it turns out that every two years, industry and researchers meet to discuss latest findings in the field. This conference is sponsored in part by David Murdock, the billionaire owner of Dole. Murdock, an octogenarian in the body of a 50 year old, has poured over a Billion dollars of his own fortune (!) into establishing a research center in North Carolina trying to better understand the nutrition value of fruits and vegetables.
So what did we learn at the conference?
1. Berries accounted for $3 Billion in sales last year. A big business.
2. Berries are good for you, in many ways. Scientists like to talk in terms of the “evil Gemini twins” – oxidation and inflammation - that berries seem to counteract very effectively.
3. Science has barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding interactions and cross effects of nutrients in foods. Whole foods and berries are no exception. We’ll write more about this in a separate post.
4. Summertime is the best time to get your fresh berries in season, grown in the USA.
5. There is a good and growing trend by consumers to eat their berries fresh rather than processed. For example, fresh blueberry consumptions accounts for almost 60% of annual sales, up a few percentage point each year.
6. Unless you live in Maine, the fresh blueberries you eat are of the “high bush” type. The “low bush” or wild blueberries of the northeast (including Canada) are much smaller and have a very short season. They are mostly frozen and used in food processing.
7. Most of the strawberries grown in the US are from California (88%). About 70% are sold fresh to consumers, up from several years ago.
8. And yet, food manufacturers are looking to incorporate berries into their processed foods, riding the health wave of beneficial antioxidants. The ingredient “strawberry” has led the wave of new product introductions for the last 3 years.
9. Cranberries need a lot of added sugar to be palatable. Almost equal to their weight. They are just so acidic. It’s almost impossible to find unsweetened cranberry juice or dried cranberries in stores. But they do contain potent antioxidants.
10. Only 5% of berries grown in the US are organic, despite a consumer fear of pesticides. We’ll discuss berry pesticide use in a separate blog post.
At the conference, we were served strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries in all forms, from raspberry consomme, to salad with berries, to salmon in a berry gravy, to various desserts. But to be honest, the best way to enjoy them is still just popping a handful of freshly picked berries straight to the mouth…