What’s in a Cranberry Sauce?

Cranberries are a native North American fruit that have found their way into Thanksgiving tradition alongside the Turkey and other dishes. Native Americans, who used the bitter and sour fruit for meat preservation, medicine, and dye, introduced it to hungry Pilgrims who at first were taken aback by the highly acidic flavor profile.

Today we know that cranberries are superfruit, loaded with beneficial antioxidants. But only 5% of cranberries are sold in their natural state. The rest turn into juice, sauce, or dried fruit. All these applications employ a generous dose of sweetener. These processing methods also have a substantial effect on the cranberry nutrient profile (i.e less antioxidants).

Let’s take a look at a Thanksgiving tradition – cranberry sauce, served alongside the main dish. For today’s analysis, a 14 ounce can of Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce.

What you need to know:

A quarter cup serving is about 2.5 ounces. It has 110 calories. 84 are from added sugars (5 teaspoons per serving).

That works out to the sauce being 76% sugar! Similar to a jam or jelly that you would eat.


Cranberries, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Corn Syrup.

Not surprisingly, 2 of the 4 ingredients are sugars. Organic versions of this sauce may include table sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, but the nutrition profile is similar. And making a sauce on your own at home, you’ll probably dump a lot of sugar into it as well.

Such is the flavor profile of edible cranberry products.

So what to do on Thanksgiving?

Enjoy the sauce, but stick to one serving (or less).

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  • laffin

    I’m making my own cranberry sauce using fresh cranberries.  This way, I control how much sweetener (and what kind) goes into it.

    • Brooke

      I’ve also already made my own with fresh cranberries – using reduced red wine as a base.  Mmmm, double antioxidants . . .

  • laffin

    I’m making my own cranberry sauce using fresh cranberries.  This way, I control how much sweetener (and what kind) goes into it.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kibbles Ann Marie Hughes

    Shows how IGNORANT fooducate is (as usual). Just assuming that the stuff in a can is ‘cranberry sauce’ as if that is the only kind.  

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      You are welcome to your opinion, but be polite, as your parents must have raised you to be.

    • Katie

      I believe they clearly stated that no matter the kind (homemade, canned, organic, etc) cranberry sauce is mostly sugar.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paula.jakobs Paula Jakobs

    That is the cranberry sauce I bought this year, despite being aware of the high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients. Thanksgiving is the only day of the year where we eat that stuff, and at most we’ll each have a tablespoon of it. *shrug* I’m more worried about those ingredients in stuff people eat daily.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=725525204 Jim Cooper

      HFCS is no more harmful than sucrose is.

      • Jasui Pulawski

        HFCS metabolizes faster in my body than other sugars-so it IS more harmful. Perhaps it is not in a perfectly healthy 30 year old athlete, but i prefer to metabolize my sugars more slowly.

  • Kathy

    Let’s not forget that it’s packaged in a can lined with BPA. Mmmmm hormone disruptors.

    • Mariah

      You can buy it in a glass jar.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      The BPA point is a good one, should have mentioned it in the post. In general you need to assume that any canned product you buy in the supermarket is lined with BPA. Unless it specifically says it’s not.

  • Lauren

    No “thank” you. One serving of junk? Would you say that with Jello or other sweets? Junk is junk on holidays and all other days.

  • Gailjoan

    I make my own and use 1/2 the amount of sugar called for. If it isn’t sweet enough, I add a little agave nectar.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=725525204 Jim Cooper

      But agave is pure fructose, and not so great for you either.

  • http://inthekitchenwithkath.com Kath

    I make my own with pure maple syrup. Yes, the sugar is still high, but it’s a once-a-year treat!

  • Ccw739

    Making cranberry relish from fresh or frozen cranberries is the best alternative!

  • Foodista!

    Fooducate is too obsessed with pushing processed food onto us. Cranberries should only be eaten direct from the bush, just like bears and aphids do. That’s the only safe way to eat cranberries. It’s local, too. Just wade out into the swamp and strip the berries and leaves into your gaping maw. Yum Yum!! Anyone who would eat processed cranberries out of a can is committing suicide. Only eat raw cranberries on the bush once a year at Thanksgiving. The rest of the year you must eat only raw chard and sip spring water. Anything else will kill you. It is just common sense.

  • FrugalArugula

    Making cranberry sauce takes LITERALLY seconds longer than opening that can. 

    Boil water, pour cranberries, add some sugar, orange zest, and some gran marnier. I don’t understand why anyone would eat this crap. 

    I DO, however understand why they’d want to “pour” it out of the can to get the satisfying noise, and maybe have a sculpture contest.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Sculpture contest – good one!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=725525204 Jim Cooper

      And the can numbers on the bottom are the best part!

  • Rtanyasmom

    Fresh cranberries, chopped red pear, little bit of honey, and cardomom – made it on Sunday so all the flavors will be perfect if my husband can keep his hands off it!

    • http://www.lindasdietdelites.com Low Carb Bread

      Now that sounds good! Although I love homemade cranberry sauce I can’t help taking a scoop of the homemade style and a scoop of the can style….and a scoop of the turkey, and a scoop of the stuffing, and a scoop of the potatoes, and a scoop of the……………………sorry I fell asleep.

    • Nancyatlake

      Loved this one

    • Nancyatlake

      Loved this one

  • Cartoonguy_99

    I didn’t know “Cranberry Sauce” came in anything other than jello-like cylinders until I was an adult and had ‘real’ cranberry sauce with, you know, actual whole cranberries. The difference is, like most things homemade vs canned, light years apart.

    But, WHO CARES what’s in it? It’s ONE DAY of the year! It as much of EVERYTHING that you want! Stressing over food is just as unhealthy as eating badly.

    • FrugalArugula

      Stressing over food is in no way as unhealthy as eating badly. 

      It’s not ONE day. What was that holiday last month? Oh, yeah, that was HALLOWEEN. Now we’re inundated with holiday parties and candy until Easter. Then we get a few months off. Yay. 

      If you haven’t noticed. The phrase “who cares, it’s one day a year” is turning out to be like 20 days a year. And if you consider that some people are actually overeating by at least a couple thousand calories on that day, the average person is rationalizing well over 10 pounds a day into their year. 

      I can’t defend cranberry sauce that’s homemade in calorie structure, unless you just reduce the sugar (because I LOVE sour stuff), but I can say that this thinking is part of the reason that we have an obesity epidemic.

      • Kare

        I think when you are talking about the normal portion of cranberry sauce eaten, the fact that it is “one day” does matter.

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  • Dreena Tischler

    Like several others, I make my own cranberry sauce.  But I also throw a couple generous handfuls of the uncooked berries into the stuffing.  They look so pretty there and the baking removes some of the tartness.  Somehow the tartness of the berries really compliments the other flavors in the dressing.  Freeze any unused berries for cranberry bread.

  • Kate Heuchera

    Yeah, I’m not getting where people think agave nectar is a healthier choice, it is also processed.

  • Kate Heuchera

    Yeah, I’m not getting where people think agave nectar is a healthier choice, it is also processed.

  • Pschulte

    I use fresh squeezed orange juice, orange peel and Stevia for sweetening fresh, raw cranberries. Just blend all the ingredients together in a blender.

  • http://twitter.com/andreat76 Andrea T

    Years ago I made a delicious cranberry ginger chutney. Cranberry sauce and chutney is easy to make. Maple syrup is a good sweetener for it.

  • Ch33ky1

    I made it from scratch once. Never again, it was very messy and a huge pain. I prefer the jelly from the can – the turkey I can easily do without, but cranberry sauce is one thing that is not negotiable. 

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