Crazy for Cranberries

By Leah Blalock MS, RD, CSP, CDE, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

There is a lot more to celebrate in November! Did you know that November 23 is Eat a Cranberry Day? It’s time to embrace that staple on any Thanksgiving spread.  Cranberries have a taste all their own and are packed with nutrients that offer a variety of potential health benefits.

The scientific name for the cranberry plant is Vaccinium macrocarpon.  The cranberry plant is an evergreen dwarf which grows best in the cooler parts of North America and Canada from October to December. The cranberry, along with the blueberry and Concord grape, is one of North America’s three native fruits that are commercially grown. Wisconsin produces the largest cranberry crop in the United States.

If you’ve ever bitten into a raw cranberry you know it’s as bitter as a lime. Native Americans believed that acidity fought infection, and pilgrims believed that there was something in the red of the skin that fought scurvy.  Today, scientists are researching the numerous chemical substances in cranberries that may offer protection from tooth cavities, urinary infection and inflammatory disease.

Tart cranberries hold high amounts of phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals called proanthocyanidins. The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score of cranberries is 9584umol TE units per 100g, which outranks nearly every fruit and vegetable- including spinach, broccoli, red grapes and cherries.  Cranberry extracts have been shown to inhibit the growth of oral, colon and prostate cancer cells. Additionally, they may also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering LDL cholesterol, inhibiting LDL oxidation, lowering blood pressure, and inhibiting clot formation.

There are so many ways to enjoy cranberries!
• sprinkle your salad with dried sweetened cranberries for a tart surprise
• substitute sweetened dried cranberries in any baked good recipe calling for raisins
• add dried cranberries to your favorite cereal

Or, try this yummy and healthy recipe this Thanksgiving:

Wild Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries and Pecans
Ingredients:
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbs. unsalted butter
1 tbs. canola or grapeseed oil
3 large shallots, minced
2 cups wild rice or 2 cups short-grain brown
rice, or a mixture
1⁄2 cup dried cranberries
1 bay leaf
2 fresh thyme sprigs or 1⁄4 tsp. dried thyme,
crumbled
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt, plus more, to taste
1/8 tsp. freshly ground white pepper, plus
more, to taste
1⁄2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1⁄4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions:
Preheat an oven to 375°F. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the stock to a simmer.

In a heavy 2-qt. flameproof casserole over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the grains are well coated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the simmering stock, dried cranberries, bay leaf, thyme, the 1/2 tsp. sea salt and the 1/8 tsp. white pepper. Bring to a simmer, stir and cover. Transfer the casserole to the oven and bake until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 40 to 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Remove and discard the bay leaf and the thyme sprigs, if used. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the pecans and parsley. Serve hot or warm.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Christmas, by Carolyn Miller (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

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