Cranberry is an evergreen shrub of the Heather family that is native to the Northeastern and North Central regions of America. The Vaccinium macrocarpon or North American cranberry is the species most commonly cultivated. Before it was first cultivated commercially, Native Americans had already been using it for its nutritional and medicinal value. It’s been said that the “prototype” for today’s energy bar was first made by Native Americans who called it “pemmican” and used cranberry as one of the main ingredients.
Today, cranberry is primarily associated with and marketed as a treatment and prevention for uncomplicated urinary tract infections, especially in female populations. However, the current science indicates that it functions more in the latter than in the former. Also of note, the benefits of cranberry go beyond UTI management as the evidence seems to suggest that it plays a role in boosting immunity, and may also aid in improving cardiovascular health, diabetes management, and cancer prevention.
Lauded as a powerhouse of antioxidants, it is rich in vitamins and minerals and is high in polyphenols as noted by Skrovankova et al. These factors fight against the cellular damage caused by free radicals and protect the tissues against oxidative stress which underlies many diseases and conditions. It is no wonder why an abundance of brands and companies happily respond to the clamor for cranberry products.
The market is saturated with cranberry-based products, but cranberry juice is the most popular form among consumers. In Complementary and Alternative Therapies and the Aging Population, Lyn Stothers notes that when excessively consumed in this form, side effects such as stomach upset and diarrhea may come up. Moreover, it may put one at higher risk of kidney stones due to its moderately high oxalate content.
The cranberry fruit isn’t typically eaten raw but is instead utilized and more popularly enjoyed in its processed forms. These include cooked, dried, and processed cranberries, as well as pills, capsules, liquid extracts and powder supplements. The top producers of Cranberry supplements as voted by pharmacists and consumers are AZO Cranberry, Nature Made, and Nature’s Bounty.
Other than being made into a healthy beverage, cranberry is also the main ingredient in many sauces, jams, and various recipes. It notably graces the Thanksgiving dinner table in cocktails, appetizers, casseroles, and desserts and has also earned an honorable mention for its use in Christmas recipes. But warm, festive feelings aside, cranberry is sought-after in alternative medicine for its more important scientifically (and sometimes anecdotally) proven uses.
Despite its many health benefits, clinicians warn against total reliance on cranberry-based products as a substitute for prescription medications whether they be antibiotics, antihypertensives, antianginal, or other treatments. While some have yielded promising results, studies into the therapeutic effects of cranberry have been limited and warrant further research.
What Are The Benefits Of Cranberry?
Several studies have attested to the multifaceted nature of cranberry and its beneficial properties in a variety of ailments. Its range stretches from oral health to cardiovascular health and it addresses a lot more in between.
1. Protects Against Liver Disease
A number of studies such as those conducted by Shimizu et al., Masnadi Shirazi et al., and Hormoznejad et al. have indicated that cranberry may be beneficial to the liver, specifically in relation to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is a spectrum of diseases that includes steatosis, steatohepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. These illnesses are a result of the deposition of fat in the liver and individuals with metabolic syndrome (a combination of 3 diagnoses of either obesity, hypertension, diabetes, hypertriglyceridemia, and/or hyperlipidemia) are at risk.
Oxidative stress is reportedly a key player in the pathogenesis of NAFLD. Cases are also found to be higher in patients who suffer from obesity. According to Shimizu et al., it is cranberry’s polyphenol content that proves valuable in this context. Owing to its free radical scavenging ability, cranberry intake can result in a reduction in biomarkers of oxidative stress.
Shirazi et al. have investigated the effects of cranberry supplementation in NAFLD patients, some in tandem with lifestyle modification. It has been demonstrated that a higher dietary intake of phenolic acids is protective against NAFLD. In particular, lower prevalence of steatosis and fibrosis is seen as a result of higher hydroxybenzoic acids intake. Steatosis and its resultant inflammation may lead to steatohepatitis. Chronic steatohepatitis, in turn, can lead to fibrosis and eventually cirrhosis. Cranberry’s ability to attenuate this is vital.
In clinical trials conducted by Hormoznejad et al., 288 mg of cranberry extract (26 g of dried cranberry) is suggested to improve the management of NAFLD, while a decrease in steatosis level was observed among patients who received only 144 mg of cranberry extract.
2. Lowers Blood Pressure
Pourmasoumi led a team in a systematic review on the outcome of cardiovascular metabolic risk factors in relation to cranberry supplementation. It was published in the Clinical Nutrition Journal and spanned randomized controlled trials on PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar until June 2018. It revealed that cranberry taken in juice form may be effective not only in managing systolic blood pressure but also in managing body mass index, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
The studies covered in the review investigated the effect of supplemental cranberry use on cardiovascular metabolic risk factors and have revealed that there is a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure after cranberry administration owing to its vasodilatory effect as well as its efficacy in improving cholesterol levels.
Although the science isn’t settled on the role of cranberry in blood pressure control, studies yielding the most promising results suggest that cranberry supplementation shows the greatest benefit in young adults signaling its potential for prevention, if not treatment.
Further studies are needed to validate findings supporting the potential of cranberry to lower cardiometabolic risk.
3. Improves Eyesight
Cranberry may be involved in the prevention of vision impairment as a result of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a progressive eye disease and is the leading cause of blindness among elderly individuals. It targets the macula, the central part of the retina, affecting changes in central vision and fine vision.
The mechanism behind AMD is yet to be established. However, oxidative stress and inflammation have been put forward as key factors in its pathogenesis. This is where cranberry assumes a crucial role. Its phenolics and flavonoids have been shown to be effective in lowering the risk of AMD by scavenging free radicals.
4. Improves Cardiovascular Health
An evaluation conducted by Apostolidis et al. on cranberry-based phytochemical combinations with oregano, rosemary, and Rhodiola rosea showed promising results. All water extracts tested showed ACE-I inhibitory activity but the highest inhibitory activity was observed in 100% cranberry. The synergistic combinations of cranberry seemed to enhance health benefits, leading to optimism for its potential to be effective in diabetes, as well as hypertension management.
Its ACE-inhibitory action of relaxing the veins and arteries to enable lower blood pressure holds the potential to improve cardiovascular health. While further study is needed to validate these findings, results from a randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that the daily consumption of 500ml of cranberry juice by study participants had a modest effect on 24-hour diastolic ambulatory blood pressure.
Scientific evidence has shown a correlation between the increased consumption of fruits, particularly berries, to the reduced incidence of diabetes type 2. Cranberries are rich in polyphenols and contain a variety of phenolic compounds that have been shown to improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Diabetes management plays a vital role in mitigating the impact of the condition on cardiovascular function as uncontrolled diabetes comes hand in hand with a decline in cardiovascular health.
5. Manages UTIs
The use of cranberry juice in the prevention of recurrent UTI may decrease the need for antibiotic therapy and as a result, minimize the chances of antibiotic resistance and reduce treatment costs when taken in proper doses.
Polyphenolics and A-type proanthocyanidins derived from cranberry can disrupt bacterial growth by preventing bacterial adhesion to the epithelial cells of the urinary tract.
The focus of research is usually limited to cranberry’s potential to prevent uncomplicated UTIs, commonly in the form of cystitis or a UTI in the bladder of otherwise healthy women. Cranberry’s efficacy for complicated UTIs arising from structural or functional abnormalities is not well studied.
However, emphasis is placed by clinicians on the need for proper antibiotic treatment of UTIs. Cranberry juice has antibacterial properties but may not be effective in aggressive infections. Relying on cranberry juices or supplements for the treatment of UTI may delay proper treatment and lead to the worsening of infection.
Evidence is unclear regarding the optimum dosage and formulation of cranberry-derived active compounds which may be taken in juice, tablet, capsule, or powder form. To date, there is no standard dose of cranberry supplements and it is sometimes just taken as tolerated.
6. Slows Cancer Progression
A healthy balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, is key to disease prevention. Per a 2016 study by Weh et al. including cranberry in one’s diet has been shown to increase immune function and improve cardiovascular function. The effect of cranberry in the prevention of cancer is an underexplored area. Although studies are limited, researchers are optimistic about the cancer inhibitory potential of cranberry or its extracts.
Cranberry’s phytonutrient-rich composition enables its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions which have been known to slow the progression of cancer by modulating cell proliferation and reducing cancer cell density. Further studies are needed to inform the preventative use of cranberries with regards to their pharmacokinetics and optimum dosage in the prevention or treatment of cancer.
7. Enhances Oral Health
Apart from its ability to increase immune function and improve cardiovascular health, cranberry has also become popular for its reported antibacterial activity. Cranberry contains proanthocyanidins (PAC) type A which has become known for its anti-adherence properties.
It prevents certain bacteria from adhering to the mucosa of the urinary tract, gastrointestinal mucosa, and oral mucosa, inhibiting their growth, making it a viable option in the prevention of periodontal disease and overall enhancement of oral health. Its ability to discourage bacterial growth has been shown to attenuate halitosis, or foul breath, a problem usually present in oral or periodontal infections.
8. Provides Antioxidants
Berries are one of the best dietary sources of bioactive compounds (BAC), thanks to their high content of flavonoids, such as anthocyanins and flavonols, as well as tannins, phenolic acids, and ascorbic acid. It is no wonder berries, particularly cranberry, have captured the scientific interest of nutritionists and food technologists who hope to utilize BAC as functional food ingredients.
Cranberry has grown in popularity as an antioxidant-packed dietary source that is delicious (in its processed form, that is), low-energy, and economical. When consumed in fresh form, the antioxidant benefits are highest as BAC are active and most plentiful in this state. The growing notoriety of free radicals to wreak havoc on health has deepened the interest in dietary antioxidants.
Free radicals carry an unpaired electron that makes them highly unstable and reactive. Oxidative stress and other reactions to free radicals, intended as defense mechanisms, have been revealed to be the culprit behind various diseases resulting from this cumulative oxidative damage. The impact of antioxidants on disease prevention makes cranberry a highly valuable food source.
9. Boosts Brain Power
Studies conducted on aging rats report that polyphenols in blueberries and cranberries have the ability to improve muscle tone, strength, and balance. These polyphenols, as with those in blackcurrants, have further demonstrated the enhancement of neuronal functioning and the restoration of the capacity in the brains of aging rats to generate a neuroprotective response to stress.
A team headed by Crews conducted clinical trials on cognitively intact older adults to study the short-term efficacy of cranberry juice on neuropsychologic functioning. Findings were less dramatic as no significant interactions were observed in the pretreatment baseline and the six-week end-of-treatment phase in the cranberry and placebo groups.
It was noted, however, on a subjective, self-report questionnaire that twice as many participants in the cranberry group reported an “improvement” in their overall ability to remember compared to placebo controls.
Although evidence is insufficient to give credence to these anecdotal findings, further studies may shed light on the potential of cranberry to unlock more brainpower by attenuating the effects of age-related declines in measures of learning, memory, and motor performance.
What Are The Side-Effects Of Cranberry?
For all its health benefits, some side effects may result from the excessive or frequent consumption of cranberry. It may be one large intake or several over a period of time. Stomach upset, diarrhea, and kidney stones are the most commonly noted side effects. Cranberry may interact with certain medications by inhibiting or intensifying their therapeutic effects. Caution is advised when consuming cranberry juice while taking certain medications.
1. Gastrointestinal Disturbances
Too much cranberry intake may result in stomach upset and diarrhea. The culprit behind this is normally fructose. This monosaccharide is also known as “fruit sugar” and naturally occurs in cranberries.
When fructose is not properly absorbed by the digestive system, it can upset the stomach, in turn causing abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Some individuals have fructose intolerance and are more predisposed to side effects. Those who do not have fructose intolerance may still experience these side effects if they consume cranberry in large amounts.
2. Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are the result of the combination of oxalates with calcium in the urine. Cranberry contains moderately high levels of oxalates and regular excessive consumption, particularly of cranberry juice, will lead to the build-up of these minerals and consequently the formation of kidney stones. Even when taken in moderation if consumed on a daily basis over an indefinite period of time, kidney stones may form as a result. The recommended dosage for cranberry supplementation is often capped at 2 months, to reduce the risk of side effects that come up over an extended period.
3. Interaction With Drugs
There aren’t yet any concrete findings but research has suggested that cranberry may interact with certain medications.
A prominent example of this would be its interaction with the drug warfarin, a blood thinner. By increasing the amount of time warfarin stays in the body, which seems to be an unintended effect of cranberry juice, warfarin’s blood-thinning effects are increased and may exceed the therapeutic level which may result in bruising and increase the chances of bleeding.
Cranberries also contain significant amounts of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is similar to aspirin as they belong to the same family of compounds. Additionally, salicylic acid is the principal metabolite of aspirin and is therefore responsible for aspirin’s anti-inflammatory action. Drinking large quantities of cranberry juice is not recommended for those with known allergies to aspirin.
Diabetics should take caution when using supplemental cranberries in the form of juice. Many cranberry juices contain sugar in high amounts to offset the berry’s natural tartiness. Consumption of these juices may increase blood sugar levels and interfere with hyperglycemia control. However, powder forms are an option, many brands are 100% cranberry with minimal to no sugar additives.
Those having a medical history of kidney stones or are taking medications for the treatment of kidney stones are advised against taking cranberry supplements as cranberries are high in oxalates which can lead to further formation of stones.
Cranberry may also decrease the rate at which the body breaks down atorvastatin. Although atorvastatin is prescribed to treat abnormal lipid levels and cranberry is credited with having an effect on elevated cholesterol, this results in atorvastatin remaining in the body for a prolonged time, increasing the effects and side effects of the drug. In the absence of solid evidence showing that cranberry consumption is beneficial in conjunction with atorvastatin treatment, it is better to forego speculation and adhere to medical advice from a physician. Those taking atorvastatin are advised to avoid drinking large amounts of cranberry juice to prevent these undesired effects.
Nifedipine is another drug to watch out for when mixed with cranberry. Nifedipine is an antihypertensive medication courtesy of its calcium-blocking action. Cranberries are said to have an ACE-inhibitory effect which also decreases blood pressure by causing dilation of blood vessels. If cranberry juice is taken in large quantities while on this medication, cranberry may prolong and therefore intensify the antihypertensive effects of nifedipine due to its own vasodilatory effect. The combination could lead to unstable blood pressure.
Other drugs that cranberry could possibly interact with include cyclosporine, flurbiprofen, diclofenac, amoxicillin, cefaclor, midazolam, and tizanidine.
While the extent and effects of these interactions haven’t been fully determined, it is perhaps wise to err on the side of caution. Those who take these, or any, medications, speak with your physician about your cranberry consumption.
What Is The Nutritional Value Of Cranberry?
Fresh cranberry fruit is composed of nearly 90% water, with carbs and fiber accounting for much of the rest of its makeup. As per the USDA National Nutrient Database, a breakdown of the main nutrients that 1 cup (100 grams) of raw, unsweetened cranberries yields includes 87.32 g water, 46 calories, 0.46 grams of protein (1% of the daily value), 11.97 grams of carbs (4% of the daily value) including 4 grams of sugar, 3.60 grams of fiber (13% of the daily value), and 0.1 grams of fat.
What Is The Vitamin Profile Of Cranberry?
Cranberry boasts a number of antioxidants. Vitamins C, E, and K1 are among their ranks making cranberry a good source of vitamins.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of cranberry’s predominant antioxidants. The use of cranberries as an important vitamin C source dates back to the time when scurvy was prevalent and sailors used to eat them to prevent the condition while at sea.
Additionally, vitamin C also functions to fight off infections and is vital to collagen synthesis.
A 100 g serving of raw cranberry provides 14.0 mg of vitamin C which is 16% of the daily value.
2. Vitamin E
Vitamin E’s primary role is as an antioxidant. Although there is limited information on the benefits of vitamin E, it has been proven effective in the treatment of a genetic motor disorder known as ataxia with vitamin E deficiency, or AVED.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that vitamin E plays a key role in slowing the memory loss of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when taken in conjunction with anti-Alzheimer medications.
Vitamin E is also said to be beneficial in children who suffer from beta-thalassemia which is a condition that reduces hemoglobin levels in the blood.
As shown in a randomized controlled trial by Ziaei et al., the population of menstruating females also benefits from vitamin E due to its effect of relieving dysmenorrhea or painful menstrual cramping when taken 2 days before the start of menses and 3 days after. Studies are unclear on by what mechanism it achieves this effect, but it also seems to decrease menstrual blood loss, which the ladies are obviously thankful for.
A 100 g serving of raw cranberry provides 1.32 mg of vitamin E which is 6% of the daily value.
3. Vitamin K1
Vitamin K1 or phylloquinone is one of the main forms of vitamin K consumed by humans through the plant foods in their diet. As with the other types of vitamin K, phylloquinone’s primary function is in the activation of proteins associated with blood clotting.
Due to this, cranberry may be contraindicated for people with a prescription for warfarin, a blood thinner, as it may interfere with the effect of the drug. This is because when warfarin and cranberry are mixed, it may actually extend the time that warfarin remains in the body, thereby intensifying its effect.
There are 5.0 mcg of vitamin K1 in 100g of raw cranberry. This accounts for 4% of the daily value.
Does Cranberry Have Vitamin C?
Yes, cranberries are a good source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from damage inflicted by free radicals. Antioxidants are known as “free radical scavengers” and by this capacity enable improved overall health.
Vitamin C is essential for the maintenance of skin, muscle, and bone, as well as a powerful immune booster. One cup of raw cranberries provides 25% of the daily requirement of vitamin C.
What Is The Mineral Profile Of Cranberry?
In addition to its vitamin content, cranberry is also a good source of essential minerals, namely manganese and copper.
A serving of raw cranberries provides around 3.5 mg of manganese which is 16% of the daily requirement. Manganese is an essential nutrient found in various foods including nuts, legumes, seeds, tea, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables, and berries. More specifically, popular food sources of manganese are avocados, eggs, brown rice, and spices. It plays a role in the blood breakdown of amino acids and the production of energy. Intake of this mineral is vital for the metabolism of vitamin B1 and vitamin E.
Manganese activates various enzymes necessary for proper digestion and utilization of foods and is a catalyst in the breakdown of fats and cholesterol. It is also necessary for normal skeletal development and maintains sex hormone production.
Copper, like manganese, is a mineral as well as an essential nutrient that enables red blood cell formation and iron absorption. It plays a significant role in the maintenance of healthy bones, blood vessels, and nerves.
Sufficient dietary copper intake helps to prevent cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, too. A serving of 100 g of dried, sweetened cranberries is 0.8 mg, which accounts for 5% of the daily requirement. In raw cranberries that amount falls to 0.061 mg of copper per 100 g.
What Are The Forms Of Cranberry?
Cranberry’s atypical taste profile sets it apart from most other berries that are generally sweet. Its high tannin content lends it a bitterness and its tart is comparable to that of lemon. Its distinct flavor is in contrast with most other berries that evolved to become sweeter. Consequently, cranberry is seldom consumed raw. Instead, it is usually processed or cooked into various forms from which its diverse health benefits may be obtained.
1. Cranberry Extract
Cranberry extract is typically taken daily for 12 weeks in 120-1600 mg doses. Cranberry in this form promotes compliance to prescription as ingestion does not require consumers to chew, therefore avoiding the unpleasant aftertaste most people experience when eating unprocessed cranberries.
The dose is also modulated and when the recommended dosage is followed, the chances of side effects that may result from excessive intake of cranberries may be averted. If side effects can be avoided by proper dosing, the optimum effect of the cranberries may be enjoyed by the consumer.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, cranberry extracts retain most of their phenolic components. These work toward boosting immunity, lowering blood sugar in people with diabetes, and protecting against cancer, heart disease, stomach ulcers, cavities, and gum disease.
Common side effects are gastric upset and even diarrhea.
Why Is Cranberry Extract Useful?
Cranberry extract is useful and beneficial because it is produced in fixed measures that are conveniently available for different dosage requirements. It provides an alternative way for those who do not enjoy the taste of the raw fruit to take in its nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Moreover, the processes it undergoes ensure that the components and properties at the heart of cranberry’s vital contributions to health are preserved in the extract.
2. Cranberry Supplement
There is no standard dose of cranberry. Various brands market their product in varying dosages. The dose used in studies is typically been between 600-800 milligrams daily of cranberry supplement capsules.
Cranberry supplements are perhaps the most convenient to take. Convenience promotes consistency and compliances with recommended doses, enabling the consumer to avail of the optimal effects of the supplement while minimizing the risks of experiencing side effects.
Cranberry supplements provide consumers with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that boost immune function, improve cardiovascular health, and offer protection from cancer, with the added convenience of being contained in a small capsule.
Popular brands of cranberry supplements include AZO Cranberry, Nature Made, Nature’s Bounty, and CranX.
3. Cranberry Powder
Cranberry powder is a concentrated form that may be sold as juice powder or marketed as capsules and extracts. Some brands market their powder as 100% cranberry, avoiding unwanted additives like additional sugar, which accommodates diabetics.
Cranberry powder is usually prescribed in the form of a powder-containing capsule of 425 mg. This is commonly used by women in the prevention of UTI, however, consumers are cautioned against the exclusive use of cranberry supplements as a treatment for infection as this may not be effective.
The erroneous belief that cranberry powder would suffice to treat infections may delay proper treatment and lead to the worsening of infection.
Popular brands marketing cranberry powder are Source of Nature, PureCo Natural Herbals, and Eco Taste.
4. Cranberry Pills And Capsules
Despite conflicting studies, cranberry pills appear to have a big market consisting mainly of females of reproductive age who usually take the supplement to reduce the frequency of urinary tract infections.
According to several studies, the frequency of UTIs can be significantly reduced by a two-month daily intake of cranberry pills containing 36 mg of proanthocyanidins. Cranberry has been known to inhibit bacterial growth by an anti-adhesion mechanism that reduces bacteria’s ability to attach to mucosal tissue.
However, efficacy is limited to uncomplicated UTIs. Those with UTIs arising from anatomical anomalies or underlying causes, such as renal impairment, reap little benefit from the consumption of cranberry pills.
Another advantage of cranberry pills is that they do not usually contain added sugar as there is no need to make the taste more appealing, unlike its powder and juice counterparts. The usual side effects are gastric upset and diarrhea.
AZO Cranberry, Nature Made, Nature’s Bounty, and CranX are top-ranking brands of cranberry pills on the market.
5. Raw Cranberry
Raw cranberries are safe for human ingestion, however, it’s not always a pleasant experience as some people find the taste of raw cranberries off-putting. People have had to get creative with how they take their fresh cranberries by including them in recipes such as smoothies, juices, or relish.
On top of the added rewards of a delicious treat, raw cranberries are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have earned it its reputation as a superfood with various health benefits.
As an occasional treat, raw cranberries may be well-tolerated, but excessive intake may lead to side effects that generally include gastric upset, diarrhea, and even lead to the formation of kidney stones.
6. Cooked Cranberry
The high tannin content of cranberries makes them less appealing than other sweet-tasting berries. As a way to bypass its less-than-appealing natural taste, cranberries are often made into sauce or relish.
The unfortunate effect of cooking or processing cranberries is a reduction in the antioxidant benefits as bioactive compounds may not be as active as when they are consumed fresh.
7. Processed Cranberry
Cranberry is processed into many forms: powder, capsule, juice, extract, concentrate, and even jams. Despite the many necessary processes to preserve and prolong the shelf-life of cranberries, it manages to retain its vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds meaning processed forms still have many health benefits to offer.
However, consumers have been cautioned to be wary of some brands, even those with FDA approval, as there may be harmful additives contained in the product.
8. Dried Cranberry
Dried cranberries are made through a process of partially dehydrating the berries akin to the dehydration process of grapes. These are often found in trail mix and other healthy snacks and may be sweetened or unsweetened depending on the brand.
A quarter-cup of dried fruit provides 92 calories, 0 grams of fat. 25 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 22 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 2 milligrams of sodium.
What Are The Cranberry Types?
Varieties of cranberries abound. There are over 100 known varieties, some even called hybrid cranberries which resulted from the cross-pollination of cranberry with other plants. To name some examples of hybrid cranberries, they are Crimson Queen, Franklin, Pilgrim, and Scarlet Knight. These hybrid examples can thrive in home gardens.
There are also types known as “heirloom cranberries.” They are open-pollinated and although still quite easy to grow, require more attention. Examples of heirloom cranberries are Ben Lear, Early Black, Howes, and McFarlin. In his book published by Rutgers University Press entitled The American Cranberry, author Paul Eck states that the Ben Lear variety was selected for cultivation in 1901.
The different types of cranberries have varying growth and reproduction rates, yield sizes, levels of juiciness, and even resistance to diseases, frost, and fake blossom.
How Do Scientists Classify Cranberry?
The classification of the North American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is detailed in the hierarchical structure of the taxonomic tree. From the domain to the species level, it is as follows:
Species: Vaccinium macrocarpon
The Integrated Taxonomic Information System of the White House Subcommittee on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics provides further detail on these classifications.
Plants under the subdivision Spermatophytina are known as spermatophytes, phanerogams, or phaenogams. Their distinguishing characteristic is producing seeds, hence yet another name of theirs, “seed plants.” As such, there are no naturally seedless varieties of cranberry and the different forms that are seedless have had to undergo a process to remove the seeds.
Cranberry and other plants belonging to the class Magnoliopsida are dicotyledons characterized by there being a pair of embryonic leaves (or cotyledons) in their seeds. Further on in the order Ericales, plants are characterized by weakly fused petals and radially symmetric flowers with superior 3- or 5-locular ovary, and stamens that typically range in number from 5 – 10 but could be more, and their fruits are either berries, capsules, or drupes with thin seed coats.
The family Ericaceae is comprised of morphologically diverse flowering plants known as heaths. They include evergreen herbs, shrubs, and small trees that thrive in poor conditions such as the poorly drained acidic soil found on barren land.
There are 450 species in the genus Vaccinium that are characterized by deciduous or evergreen shrubs that are either erect or creeping. Moreover, the leaves are alternately arranged and the flowers can be singular, clustered, or present as long spikes in the leaf axil. A highlight of this genus is that the berries are typically edible.
What Is The History Of Cranberry?
The Vaccinium macrocarpon or cranberry is native to the swamps and bogs of the Northeastern and North Central regions of North America where it thrives. But Captain Henry Hall, a Revolutionary war veteran, who stumbled upon cranberry vine thriving in some sand on Cape Cod and became the first person to successfully cultivate cranberries, was not the first to discover its nutritional and medicinal value.
Cranberries had been a staple for Native Americans who harvested wild cranberries and made drinks and remedies out of them long before cranberries found their way to the holiday tables of Americans. Native Americans even made an energy bar-like food called “pemmican” out of cranberries which was a vital source of nutrition for fur traders during the winter months when food sources were limited. They also used cranberries to make fabric dye.
After Captain Henry Hall first successfully cultivated cranberries, it became an active industry in Maine during much of the last century. By 1830, it had spread to New Jersey and saw its reach extend to Wisconsin through the 1850s. By the 1880s, consumers were enjoying cranberries as far as the Pacific North West. Despite what seemed like an instant boom, the Maine commercial cranberry industry was virtually eliminated in the early 1900s owing to a combination of factors.
Despite the cranberry plant’s resilience that first captured the interest of Captain Hall who discovered a shrub growing in sand, it could not weather the lack of adequate technology for frost protection, the spread of disease and pests, and a steep decline in demand during World War I. The sale of fresh cranberries seemed to be almost instantly replaced by canned cranberries.
Thankfully, the cranberry industry seemed to have a revival in 1991 when Maine’s first modern commercial harvest made history, and by 1992 there were at least five growers with planted vines and several new plantations under development.
The “rebirth” of the Maine cranberry industry was a vital step to unlocking the secrets of the cranberry. It paved the way for decades of research that has given us glimpses of the vast potential contained within this small fruit.
Perhaps in decades to come, there will be more clarity on the underexplored areas of cranberry research. Future research might substantiate existing studies and even lead to the emergence of new breakthroughs that will improve the quality and longevity of human life.
What Is The Etymology Of Cranberry?
The name cranberry is derived from the low German word “kraanbere” which is translated into English as “crane berry.” It’s believed that the early German and Dutch settlers in America gave the shrub its name because the stem, calyx, and petal of its flowers resembled a crane’s neck, head, and bill.
What Is The Evolution Of Cranberry?
Most plants require the assistance of animals in dispersing their seeds. Instead of producing sweet berries that would attract foragers, however, cranberry evolved to cut back on the sugar and packed its fruits with tannin, a chemical responsible for the sharp taste of unripened fruit. This fends off predators and allows the berries to go on their own unique path towards growth.
Cranberries developed air pockets that allow them to float. It was this characteristic that the plant relied on for the dispersal of its seeds. Cranberry thrived on streamsides and when its fruits ripened, they dropped onto the waters and were carried off to other shores where they could flourish into more cranberry shrubs.
Conveniently, its ability to float made it a commercial success as it’s much easier for farmers to flood the bogs during harvest season and collect the floating berries, rather than scavenging each individual berry. The evolutionary direction taken by the cranberry has led to it becoming a popular fruit beloved and enjoyed by many.
What Are The Food Recipes That Include Cranberry?
Cranberry is an excellent and versatile ingredient that can feature in both savory and sweet recipes. Its mid-September through mid-November harvest season means there’s plenty of it in time for some of American’s favorite holidays.
Indeed, cranberry’s presence on the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables is a mandatory tradition. We use it in our recipes not only because our forefathers did so, but also because its flavor profile makes for some very tasty dishes.
- Cranberry Pie
- Cranberry-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
- Almond Cranberry Rice Pilaf
- Cranberry-Stuffed Pork Chops
- Air Fryer Orange-Cranberry Butternut Squash with Ginger
- Thyme-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fresh Cranberries
- Cranberry Jalapeno “Cornbread” Muffins
- Spicy Turkey and Cranberry Pinwheels
- Fall Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette
- Fresh Cranberry Salsa
What Are The Similar Plants To The Cranberry?
Cranberry belongs to the heath family Ericaceae. Of the 40 North American species under the genus Vaccinium, the most notable plants related to cranberry are the following listed below. They are each highly regarded for their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Bilberry (V. myrtillus)
- Blueberry (V. angustifolium, V. ashei, and V. corymbosum)
- Lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea)
What Are The Lesser Known Facts About Cranberry?
There are a myriad of health benefits that can be gained from cranberry, some more commonly associated with it than others. But there are other facets to this perennial fruit. Some of its interesting but lesser-known facts are listed below.
- Cranberry is one of the very few fruits native to North America.
- The Native Americans made pemmican, a high-energy cake somewhat like modern-day energy bars, out of deer meat and cranberries.
- The first mention of cranberry in a recipe can be dated back to as early as 1796 in Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery,” which was to be served with turkey.
- Cranberry is cultivated in 5 states: Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
- Cranberry can sometimes be used to flavor wines but it cannot undergo the same winemaking process as grapes.
- Fresh cranberry consists of 90% water.
- North Americans consume 400 million pounds of cranberry annually.
- Thanksgiving dinners account for some 20% of annual cranberry consumption.
- One million pounds of dehydrated cranberries were distributed yearly to American troops in WWII.
- As little as 5% of cranberries are sold fresh, the rest are processed into other forms.
Why Is Cranberry Good For Females?
Cranberry is especially good for females because of its function in the prevention of urinary tract infections. Women develop UTIs 14 times more than men because of their anatomy. A woman’s shorter urethra means that bacteria have less distance to cover to reach the bladder and infect it. Pregnant women, in particular, are at an even higher risk for UTIs. According to a study by Hooton, the prevalence of asymptomatic bacteriuria among them was found to be at 2.5-11% with some 35% of these cases progressing to symptomatic upper urinary tract infections.
This can be attributed to the presence of more sugar, protein, and hormones in the urine of pregnant women. The pressure exerted on the bladder by the growing uterus also factors in. As a result of this, the bladder cannot be fully voided and the bacteria in the residual urine may become a source of infection. Taking this into consideration, the renal system of females would especially benefit from cranberry.
Are There Any Other Berries As Rich In Nutrients As Cranberries?
Berries are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. With some exceptions, such as strawberry’s generosity with vitamin C, berries have relatively similar vitamin and mineral contents. The following data provided by the USDA shows bilberry, blueberry, lingonberry, raspberry, and strawberry to be on par with cranberry in terms of nutrients.
Bilberry is related to cranberry and likewise provides vitamin C and manganese. More specifically, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of bilberry can give you 49% of the daily value for vitamin C and 143% of the daily value for manganese.
Blueberry is another close relative of cranberry. On top of the 16% daily value of vitamin C and 22% daily value of manganese, a one-cup (148 grams) serving of blueberry also provides 24% of the daily value of vitamin K.
Lingonberry is yet another berry that is closely related to cranberry. A 3/4-cup (100-gram) serving of this provides 10% of the reference daily intake of vitamin E and 12% of daily vitamin C. It also provides 139% of the RDI for manganese.
Raspberry provides 36% of the daily value of vitamin C, 8% of the daily value of vitamin K, and 36% of the daily value of manganese in one cup (123 grams).
Strawberry provides an impressive 94% of the daily value of vitamin C and 24% of the daily value of manganese in a cup (144 grams).
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