They're tasty, they're sweet, and practically bursting with nutrition. They may be tiny, but blueberries show that size is no measure of quality. With only 80 (nearly fat-free) calories in one cup, these powerhouses of nutrition offer a great source of vitamin C and fiber, plus a plentiful source of antioxidants. Discover more about this hassle-free, versatile fruit. No peeling required!
Popularity: Blueberries are the second most popular berry in the United States. Number one? Strawberries.
Wild beginnings: the modern blueberry owes its existence to Dr. Frederick Coville and Elizabeth White, a New Jersey farmer's daughter. They teamed up to crossbreed wild blueberry plants, creating new varieties of the fruit. Before their efforts in 1916, Native Americans were incorporating blueberries into tasty recipes as well as using them for medicinal properties.
Quirky tradition: some of the more fanciful recipe names include Blueberry Buckle (coffee cake) and Blueberry Grunt (pie meets cobbler in this steamed dessert--the name speaks for itself as a grunting noise escapes the skillet during cooking).
The USDA recommends 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit per day for adult men and women and 1.5 cups per day for most kids. Ongoing research offers more reasons to choose blue. Studies show that blueberries top the number one spot -- among more than 100 foods -- in the antioxidant department. Antioxidants are essential for fighting free radicals, the molecules that contribute to higher risk for cancer as well as a host of other diseases. Additional research reveals that blueberries may play a pivotal role in age-related diseases. Studies from the USDA showed that aged animals fed blueberries in their diets for two months showed improvements in short-term memory, coordination, balance, muscle strength, and stamina.
How to Buy
Blueberries abound in the summer, but they're available year-round. Highbush varieties hail from the United States, Canada, and Chile. Color is key when selecting fresh blueberries. Steer clear of unripe berries with a reddish color, shriveled skin, or mold. Look for a container full of plump, silvery, smooth-skinned berries.
Be label-savvy. When choosing packaged foods that claim to contain blueberries, read the label carefully. Artificial ingredients and flavors may be masquerading as the real deal.
How to Store
Keep blueberries in the refrigerator, either in their original packaging or in a bowl -- and wait before washing. Blueberries are best washed right before you eat them. Washing too soon damages the protective skin, leaving them prone to spoiling. Old thinking held the view that freezing blueberries was bad, but research has shown otherwise. Berries will be fine in the freezer, if stored properly: wash them and make sure they're dry before putting them in a freezer-lock plastic bag.
How to Prepare
High baking temperatures can damage certain vitamins and antioxidants. To preserve all those nutrients, it's best to eat blueberries when they're fresh and uncooked. Fresh, plump blueberries make a great addition to cereals and oatmeal, or topped on low-fat yogurt.
Layer yogurt, fresh blueberries, and chopped nuts, such as almonds or walnuts, for a parfait. Drizzle with honey for extra sweetness.
How to Eat
Due to their versatility, blueberries can be teamed with dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese, and pair well with nuts and spices. Whipped up in a cool smoothie, sweetening a pancake, or adding a unique kick to salsa, blueberries provide an impressive accent to most dishes.