AskDefine | Define cranberry

Dictionary Definition



1 any of numerous shrubs of genus Vaccinium bearing cranberries
2 very tart red berry used for sauce or juice

User Contributed Dictionary



From Kraanbere, from Kraan "crane" + Bere "berry".


  1. A shrub belonging to the Vaccinium family, Vaccinium oxycoccus, with a number of subspecies.
  2. The red berry of that shrub.


  • Czech: brusinka
  • Finnish: karpalo

Extensive Definition

Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines in the genus Vaccinium subgenus Oxycoccus, or in some treatments, in the distinct genus Oxycoccus. They are found in acidic bogs throughout the cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
Cranberries are low, creeping shrubs or vines up to 2 m long and 5 to 20 cm in height, with slender, wiry stems, not thickly woody, and small evergreen leaves. The flowers are dark pink, with very distinct reflexed petals, leaving the style and stamens fully exposed and pointing forward. They are pollinated by domestic honey bees. The fruit is a false berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant; it is initially white, but turns a deep red when fully ripe. It is edible, with an acidic taste that can overwhelm its sweetness.
Cranberries are a major commercial crop in certain US states and Canadian provinces (see "Cultivation and Uses" below). Most cranberries are processed into products such as juice, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries, with the remainder sold fresh to consumers. Cranberry sauce is regarded an indispensable part of traditional American and Canadian Thanksgiving menus and European winter festivals.
Since the early 21st century within the global functional food industry, there has been a rapidly growing recognition of cranberries for their consumer product popularity, nutrient content and antioxidant qualities, giving them commercial status as a novel "superfruit".

Species and description

There are three to four species of cranberry, classified in two sections:*Vaccinium oxycoccus or Oxycoccus palustris (Common Cranberry or Northern Cranberry) is widespread throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere, including northern Europe, northern Asia and northern North America. It has small 5-10 mm leaves. The flowers are dark pink, with a purple central spike, produced on finely hairy stems. The fruit is a small pale pink berry, with a refreshing sharp acidic flavour.
  • Vaccinium microcarpum or Oxycoccus microcarpus (Small Cranberry) occurs in northern Europe and northern Asia, and differs from V. oxycoccus in the leaves being more triangular, and the flower stems hairless. Some botanists include it within V. oxycoccus.
  • Vaccinium macrocarpon or Oxycoccus macrocarpus (American Cranberry, Bearberry) native to northeastern North America (eastern Canada, and eastern United States, south to North Carolina at high altitudes). It differs from V. oxycoccus in the leaves being larger, 10-20 mm long, and in its slightly apple-like taste.*Vaccinium erythrocarpum or Oxycoccus erythrocarpus (Southern Mountain Cranberry) native to southeastern North America at high altitudes in the southern Appalachian Mountains, and also in eastern Asia.
Cranberries are related to the bilberries, blueberries, and huckleberries, all in Vaccinium subgenus Vaccinium. These differ in having stouter, woodier stems forming taller shrubs, and in the bell-shaped flowers, the petals not being reflexed.
Some plants of the completely unrelated genus Viburnum are sometimes inaccurately called "highbush cranberries".
Cranberries are susceptible to false blossom, a harmful but controllable phytoplasma disease common in the eastern production areas of Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Etymology and history

The name cranberry derives from "craneberry", first named by early European settlers in America who felt the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane (bird). Another name used in northeastern Canada is mossberry. The traditional English name for Vaccinium oxycoccus, fenberry, originated from plants found growing in fen (marsh) lands.
Cranberries have been eaten by Arctic peoples for millennia and remain a very popular fruit for wild harvesting in the Nordic countries and Russia. In Scotland, the berries were originally wild-harvested but with the loss of suitable habitat, the plants have become so scarce that this is no longer done. In North America, Native Americans were the first to use cranberries as food. Calling the red berries Sassamanash, natives may have introduced cranberries to starving English settlers in Massachusetts who incorporated the berries into traditional Thanksgiving feasts. American Revolutionary War veteran Henry Hall is credited as first to farm cranberries in the Cape Cod town of Dennis around 1816.

Cultivation and uses

Geography and bog method

Cranberries are a major commercial crop in the U.S. states of Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Quebec. According to the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries, with nearly half of U.S. production. Massachusetts is the second largest U.S. producer, with over one-third of total domestic production. A very small production is found in southern Chile, in the Baltic States, and in Eastern Europe.
Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. Currently cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas that have a shallow water table. The topsoil is scraped off to form dikes around the bed perimeter. Clean sand is hauled in to a depth of four to eight inches. The surface is laser leveled with a slight crown in the center to facilitate drainage. Beds are frequently drained with socked tile in addition to the perimeter ditch. In addition to making it possible to hold water, the dikes allow equipment to service the beds without driving on the vines. Irrigation equipment is installed in the bed to provide irrigation for vine growth and for Spring and Autumn frost protection.


Cranberry vines are propagated by moving vines from an established bed. The vines are spread on the surface of the sand of the new bed and pushed into the sand with a blunt disk. The vines are watered frequently during the first few weeks until roots form and new shoots grow. Beds are given frequent light application of nitrogen fertilizer during the first year. The cost of establishment for new cranberry beds is estimated to be about US$70,000 per hectare.
A common misconception about cranberry production is that the beds remain flooded throughout the year. During the growing season cranberry beds are not flooded, but are irrigated regularly to maintain soil moisture. Beds are flooded in the Autumn to facilitate harvest and again during the Winter to protect against low temperatures. In cold climates like Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and eastern Canada the Winter flood typically freezes into ice while in warmer climates the water remains liquid. When ice forms on the beds trucks can be driven onto the ice to spread a thin layer of sand that helps to control pests and to rejuvenate the vines. Sanding is done every three to five years.

Harvesting and food uses

Cranberries are harvested in the Autumn when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color. This is usually in late September and into October. To harvest cranberries, the beds are flooded with six to eight inches of water above the vines. A harvester is driven through the beds to remove the fruit from the vines. For the past 50 years, water reel type harvesters have been used. Harvested cranberries float in the water and can be corralled into a corner of the bed and conveyed or pumped from the bed. From the farm, cranberries are taken to receiving stations where they are cleaned, sorted, and stored prior to packaging or processing. In 2005, a new type of cranberry harvester called the Ruby Slipper was introduced into the industry. Whether this type of harvester with fewer moving parts will be accepted by the industry still remains to be seen.
White cranberry juice drinks are made from regular cranberries that have been harvested after the fruits are mature, but before they have attained their characteristic dark red color. Yields are lower on beds harvested early and the early flooding tends to damage vines, but not severely.
About 95% of cranberries are processed into products such as juice drinks, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries. The remaining 5% is sold fresh to consumers. Cranberries destined for processing are usually frozen in bulk containers shortly after arriving at a receiving station. To allow air movement deterring decay, cranberries for fresh market are stored in shallow bins or boxes with perforated or slatted bottoms. Because harvest occurs in late Autumn, cranberries for fresh market are frequently stored in thick walled barns without mechanical refrigeration. Temperatures are regulated by opening and closing vents in the barn as needed.
Usually cranberries as fruit are served as a compote or jelly, often known generically as cranberry sauce. Such preparations are traditionally served with roast turkey meat and are considered by some to be a staple of English Christmas dinners, and the Canadian and US holiday Thanksgiving. The berry is also used in baking (muffins, scones and cakes) but, unlike many other berries, is normally considered too sharp to be eaten unaccompanied.
Fresh cranberries can be frozen at home, and will keep up to nine months; they can be used directly in recipes without thawing.
Cranberry juice, usually sweetened to reduce its natural severe tartness and make "cranberry juice cocktail" or blended with other fruit juices, is a major use of cranberries.

Nutrients and antioxidant capacity

Cranberries have moderate levels of vitamin C, dietary fiber and the essential dietary mineral, manganese, as well as a balanced profile of other essential micronutrients.
By measure of the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity with an ORAC score of 9,584 units per 100 g, cranberry ranks near the top of 277 commonly consumed foods in the United States.
ne: Daily Value not established

Potential health benefits


Cranberries are a source of polyphenol antioxidants, phytochemicals under active research for possible benefits to the cardiovascular system, immune system and as anti-cancer agents.
Cranberry juice contains a chemical component, a high molecular weight non-dializable material (NDM), as noted above, that is able to inhibit and even reverse the formation of plaque by Streptococcus mutan pathogens that cause tooth decay. Cranberry juice components also show efficacy against formation of kidney stones.
Raw cranberries and cranberry juice are abundant food sources of the anthocyanidin flavonoids, cyanidin, peonidin and quercetin. These compounds have an unknown effect on human health, but are powerful against human cancer cells in vitro. Their effect in humans, however, is unproven, showing poor absorption into human cells and rapid elimination from blood.
Nonetheless, since 2002, there has been an increasing focus on the potential role of cranberry polyphenolic constituents in preventing several types of cancer.
Cranberry tannins have anti-clotting properties and may reduce urinary tract infections and the amount of dental plaque-causing oral bacteria, thus being a prophylaxis for gingivitis.

Anti-adhesion properties

There is potential benefit of cranberry juice consumption against bacterial infections in the urinary system. While much of the evidence is equivocal, hypotheses state that an effect occurs from a component of the juice competitively inhibiting bacterial attachment to the bladder and urethra, allowing the bacteria to be flushed out more easily.
Although promising for anti-bacterial activity, long-term consumption of cranberry juice has only limited evidence for beneficial effects against urinary tract infections in women. Similar applications have not been successfully proved in other clinical trials of consuming cranberry juice or tablets by people with spinal cord injury associated with bladder catheterization, neurogenic bladder or infrequent urination, any of which may be associated with increased susceptibility to bacterial infections.

Current and completed clinical trials

In April 2004, the French government agency AFSSA, which regulates food products in a way similar to the United States FDA, granted approval of cranberry juice as an antibacterial agent for urinary tract health.
To date, four completed randomized clinical trials have shown evidence for inhibiting bacterial infections in the urinary tract of women by drinking cranberry juice over a 12 month period.
The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) also reports three recently completed and four ongoing clinical trials of cranberry juice or capsules (pharmacy). Six of these human studies are examining antibacterial effects in female urinary tract infections. One evaluates effects of cranberry polyphenols on cytochrome P450 enzymes involved in metabolism. To evaluate the drug interaction potential of cranberry, alprazolam, dextromethorphan and caffeine are being examined. As of January 2008, the results of these trials have not been published.

Possible contraindications

An autumn 2004 caution from the Committee on Safety of Medicines, the UK agency dealing with drug safety, advised patients taking warfarin not to drink cranberry juice after adverse effects (such as increased incidence of bruising) were reported, possibly resulting from the presence of salicylic acid native to polyphenol-rich plants such as the cranberry. However, during 2006-8, several reviews of case reports and pilot studies have failed to confirm this effect, collectively indicating no significant interaction between daily consumption of 250 mL cranberry juice and warfarin.

Marketing and economics


Cranberry sales have traditionally been associated with the United States holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Until the 1930s most of the crop was sold fresh.
Cranberry growers have a long history of cooperative marketing. As early as 1904, John Gaynor, a Wisconsin grower, and A.U. Chaney, a fruit broker from Des Moines, Iowa, organized Wisconsin growers into a cooperative called the Wisconsin Cranberry Sales Company to receive a uniform price from buyers. Growers in New Jersey and Massachusetts were also organized into cooperatives, creating the National Fruit Exchange that marketed fruit under the Eatmor brand. The success of cooperative marketing almost led to its failure. With consistent and high prices, area and production doubled between 1903 and 1917 and prices fell. In 1918, US$54,000 was spent on advertising, leading to US$1 million in increased sales.
With surplus cranberries and changing American households some enterprising growers began canning cranberries that were below-grade for fresh market. Competition between canners was fierce because profits were thin. The Ocean Spray cooperative was established in 1930 through a merger of three primary processing companies: Ocean Spray Preserving company, Makepeace Preserving Co, and Cranberry Products Co. The new company was called Cranberry Canners, Inc. and used the Ocean Spray label on their products. Since the new company represented over 90% of the market, it would have been illegal (cf. antitrust) had attorney John Quarles not found an exemption for agricultural cooperatives. As of 2006, about 65% of the North American industry belongs to the Ocean Spray cooperative. (The percentage may be slightly higher in Canada than in the U.S.)
A turning point for the industry occurred on November 9, 1959 when the secretary of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Arthur S. Flemming announced that some of the 1959 crop was tainted with traces of the herbicide aminotriazole. The market for cranberries collapsed and growers lost millions of dollars. However, the scare taught the industry that they could not be completely dependent on the holiday market for their products and had to find year round markets for their fruit. They also had to be excruciatingly careful about their use of pesticides.
After the aminotriazole scare, Ocean Spray reorganized and spent substantial sums on product development. New products such as cranberry apple juice blends were introduced, followed by other juice blends.
A Federal Marketing Order that is authorized to synchronize supply and demand was approved in 1962. The order has been renewed and modified slightly in subsequent years, but it has allowed for more stable marketing. The market order has been invoked during six crop years: 1962 (12%), 1963 (5%), 1970 (10%), 1971 (12%), 2000 (15%), and 2001 (35%). Even though supply still slightly exceeds demand, there is little will to invoke the Federal Marketing Order out of the realization that any pullback in supply by U.S. growers would easily be filled by Canadian production.
Prices and production increased steadily during the 1980s and 1990s. Prices peaked at about $65.00 per barrel (A cranberry barrel = 100 pounds or 45.4 kg) in 1996 then fell to $18.00 per barrel in 2001. The cause for the preciptous drop was classic oversupply. Production had outpaced consumption leading to substantial inventory in freezers or as concentrate.
Cranberry handlers (processors) include Ocean Spray, Cliffstar, Inc., Northland Cranberries, Clement Pappas & Co., Decas Cranberry Products as well as a number of small handlers and processors.


External links

cranberry in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Fenberge
cranberry in German: Moosbeeren
cranberry in Spanish: Arándano rojo
cranberry in Esperanto: Oksikoko
cranberry in French: Canneberge
cranberry in Croatian: Brusnica
cranberry in Korean: 넌출월귤
cranberry in Italian: Ossicocco
cranberry in Hebrew: חמוציות
cranberry in Lithuanian: Spanguolė
cranberry in Japanese: クランベリー
cranberry in Dutch: Veenbes
cranberry in Norwegian: Tranebær
cranberry in Polish: Żurawina
cranberry in Russian: Клюква
cranberry in Finnish: Isokarpalo
cranberry in Swedish: Tranbär
cranberry in Chinese: 小紅莓
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