Sunday, 24 December 2017

From Bog to Box: A Visit to a Cranberry Production Site

HerbalEGram: Volume 14, Issue 11, November 2017 Cranberries have become a popular food, beverage, and dietary supplement ingredient in North America. A total of 400 million pounds of cranberries are consumed annually in the United States, of which 20% are used during the Thanksgiving holiday.1 Cranberry sauce has accompanied meat dishes dating back centuries, and the berries were used by Native American tribes long before European settlers were introduced to the fruit. Cranberries are derived from two different species: Vaccinium macrocarpon and V. oxycoccos. The latter is also known as small cranberry. Both species are members of the heather family (Ericaceae). The small cranberry can be distinguished from V. macrocarpon by its smaller leaves, whose edges are rolled under and are whiter underneath. Additionally, the leaves and stems of V. macrocarpon grow much higher than the flowers and fruit, while the small cranberry fruit appear to be terminal (i.e., at the end of the stems) instead.2 Traditional Uses of Cranberry Both species of cranberry have been widely used by Native American tribes. Wild cranberries were gathered by tribes from Maine south to New Jersey on the East Coast, and west across the northern Great Plains all the way to Oregon and Washington, and north to areas from British Columbia to Quebec.3 The name cranberry originates from the word “craneberry,” which refers to the blossoms’ resemblance to the head and bill of a sandhill crane.4 The French Canadian name atoca, which is still in use in the province of Quebec, is derived from atoka, the Wendat (Huron) word for cranberry. The berry was called sassamanash by the Algonquin and ibimi by the Wampanoag and Lenni-Lenape, which both translate as “bitter” or “sour berry.” The Native Americans ate fresh cranberries, dried the fruit to make cakes to store, and made tea out of the leaves. The Algonquin, Chippewa, Iroquois, and Wendat used V. macrocarpon berries for food. In his 1632 book Le grand voyage au pays des Hurons, French missionary Gabriel Sagard wrote that the members of the Wendat tribe ate cranberries raw or stuffed them into bread.5 The Iroquois mashed the fruit, made it into small cakes, or dried it for later use. Interestingly, the Iroquois also soaked the dried fruit in warm water and cooked it to make a sauce or mixed it into cornbread.6 The Iroquois and Chippewa also used cranberries for medicinal purposes: as a “blood purifier” and laxative and to treat fever, stomach cramps, and conditions related to childbirth.3 The Montagnais used a tea made from the branches to treat lung inflammation.6 Vaccinium oxycoccos also was a source of food for a number of Native American tribes. The berries were eaten raw or cooked by the Algonquin, Chippewa, Cree, Haisla, Hanaksiala, Hesquiat, Kitasoo, Klallam, Makah, Menominee, Nitinaht, Oweekeno (or Wuikinuxv), Potawatomi, Quinault, Tanana, and Thompson (or Nlaka’pamux) tribes.6,7 Inuit people from the Iñupiat tribe ate the berries with frozen fish eggs as a dessert. Another dessert was made from fresh berries mashed with milk and seal oil. Berries were also cooked with fish eggs and blubber, made into pies and puddings, or used as a sauce.6 An infusion of V. oxycoccos was used by the Chippewa tribe to treat nausea. Native Americans also used dressings made from whole dried cranberry fruit externally for wound healing.8 Native Americans also used cranberries in a mixture called pemmican, which comes from the Cree word pimîhkân, derived from the word pimî, meaning fat or grease. Historically, dried meat from elk, moose, deer, or bison was pounded into very small pieces and mixed with fat and berries, such as blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium, V. corymbosum, and other Vaccinium species), cranberries, Saskatoon berries (Amelanchier alnifolia, Rosaceae), and choke cherries (Prunus virginiana, Rosaceae), and formed into a cake or ball.9 It is believed that the addition of fat and the fruits helped to preserve the pemmican, so it could be used by hunters and fur traders on long journeys away from home.3 The pemmican lasted for months and was a reliable source of protein and fat. European settlers did not follow the recipes of Native Americans, but used cranberries in their own recipes for V. oxycoccos, which is also found in Europe, or lingonberries (V. vitis-idaea), mainly as a sour fruit sauce served with wild fowl. Settlers to North America sweetened the fruit with honey, and used cranberries in pies and tarts, and in a sauce for all kinds of meat dishes, particularly turkey. Cranberry Cultivation and Processing Captain Henry Hall is widely credited as being the first to cultivate cranberries beginning in 1816 in Dennis, Massachusetts. In addition, Edward Sackett started cultivating the plant in about 1860 in Berlin, Wisconsin. Cranberries do not grow in water, but in impermeable beds (known as “bogs”) that are layered with sand, peat, gravel, and clay. These bogs were originally made by rock debris of varying size that was deposited by glaciers and covered with layers of organic soil. Now, cranberry producers have optimized the growing conditions for cranberries.4 Dead leaves accumulate over the course of time and sand is added to the bed surface every two to five years to encourage upright production and maintain productivity. The fruit is either dry-harvested (to be sold as fresh fruit in stores) or wet-harvested, producing those cranberries that are further processed into juice, dried cranberries, or products for the nutraceutical and cosmetic industry. Approximately 95% of cranberries are wet-harvested.4 The cranberry fruit has four pockets of air that allow it to float. For wet-harvesting, the cranberry bogs are flooded, and the fruits are removed from the stems of the plants using machines that churn the water and knock off the fruits. The floating fruits are pulled towards a pump that moves water and cranberries upwards onto a conveyor belt, from which the cranberries are loaded onto a truck, while the water is pumped back into the bog. Wet-harvested cranberries are cleaned immediately and most of the crop is frozen prior to further processing to avoid spoilage. The cleaning of cranberries involves several steps. First, the cranberries are “hosed down” and then put through a sorting machine that removes leaves and rotten fruit. Smaller parts (e.g., the stems) are removed in a tumbler, a device that knocks the cranberries against a wall. Lastly, the berries are sorted by size: the largest are often sold dried and sweetened, while the smallest, which tend to have the highest concentrations of proanthocyanidins*, are used as raw materials for dietary supplement products. Mid-sized berries are used to make cranberry juice and sauce. Quality Control and Modern Research As demand for cranberry products increased, adulteration by dilution or substitution with lower-cost materials has been reported more frequently. Known adulterants include extracts of various fruits and other materials, such as grape (Vitis vinifera, Vitaceae) seed and skin, peanut (Arachis hypogaea, Fabaceae) skin, maritime pine (Pinus pinaster, Pinaceae) bark, black bean (Phaseolus vulgaris, Fabaceae) skins, black rice (Oryza sativa, Poaceae), plum (Prunus domestica, Rosaceae), and mulberries (Morus spp., Moraceae).10-16 In addition, some commercial products contain other unlabeled, less valuable parts of cranberry, or unlabeled food dyes.16 Companies that operate on a “farm-to-gate” basis (i.e., those that use some degree of vertical integration, in which each step, from cultivation to the production of raw materials, is controlled) have a clear advantage with regard to ensuring a good quality raw material and/or finished product, compared to companies that purchase highly processed ingredients of unknown origin. Today, the main medicinal use for cranberries is to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). This effect, which has been supported in numerous clinical studies, is believed to be due to the ability of the proanthocyanidins to prevent bacterial adhesion to the urinary tract.17-20 According to a systematic review and meta-analysis, the UTI preventive effect is more pronounced in children, and women with recurrent UTIs.21 However, some researchers consider the clinical evidence for the efficacy of cranberries to prevent UTIs to be inconclusive.21,22 Nonetheless, the most recent meta-analysis, published in 2017, included 28 clinical investigations that assessed the effects of cranberry preparations on the incidence of UTIs and found that cranberry significantly reduced the risk of UTIs. Patients at risk for UTIs were found to be more likely to benefit from the effect of cranberry treatment.23 Other health benefits attributed to cranberries include the prevention of ulcers and periodontal disease, both due to the reported anti-adherence properties.24-25 For oral health, cranberry ingredients with low sugar contents are desirable. Cranberry has also been shown to exhibit antiviral activities, and to reduce cardiovascular risk factors.26-28 Future research may find additional health benefits for this native North American fruit. * Proanthocyanidins are fairly large molecules consisting of flavan-3-ol units, and are considered by many to be the primary active components in cranberries. —Stefan Gafner, PhD Cranberries float in a flooded bog. The fruit is cut from the plant. The floating fruit is pulled toward the pump. The water and berries are pumped and the water is drained. Berries are loaded into a truck for transport to the processing center. Berries are transported to the cleaning room. Stems and leaf material are removed. Berries are sorted according to size. This machine juices mid-sized berries. These larger berries will be dried and sweetened. All photos courtesy of Stefan Gafner. References Girard KK, Sinha NK. Cranberry, Blueberry, Currant, and Gooseberry. In: Hui YH, ed. Handbook of Fruits and Fruit Processing. Oxford, UL: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd; 2003:369-390. Michigan Flora Online. University of Michigan website. 2011. Accessed October 30, 2017. Whitman-Salkin S. Cranberries, a thanksgiving staple, were a Native American superfood. National Geographic [online]. 2013. Neto CC, Vinson JA. Cranberry. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, eds. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2011. Sagard G. Le grand voyage au pays des Hurons. Paris, France: Denys Moreau; 1632. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc; 1998. 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Phytochemistry. 2005;66. Howell AB, Botto H, Combescure C, et al. Dosage effect on uropathogenic Escherichia coli anti-adhesion activity in urine following consumption of cranberry powder standardized for proanthocyanidin content: a multicentric randomized double blind study. BMC Infectious Diseases. 2010;10(1):94. Engels G. Cranberry. HerbalGram. 2007;76:1-2. Bone K. Further evidence for the clinical efficacy of cranberry. HerbalGram. 2016;112:29-33. Jepson RG, Williams G, Craig JC. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012(10). Nowack R, Birck R. Cranberry products in the prevention of urinary tract infections: examining the evidence. Botanics: Targets and Therapy. 2015:45. Luís Â, Domingues F, Pereira L. Can cranberries contribute to reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections? A systematic review with meta-analysis and trial sequential analysis of clinical trials. J Urol. 198(3):614-621. Bodet C, Grenier D, Chandad F, Ofek I, Steinberg D, Weiss EI. Potential oral health benefits of cranberry. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2008;48(7):672-680. Burger O, Weiss E, Sharon N, Tabak M, Neeman I, Ofek I. Inhibition of Helicobacter pylori adhesion to human gastric mucus by a high-molecular-weight constituent of cranberry juice. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2002;42(sup3):279-284. McKay DL, Blumberg JB. Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Nutr Rev. 2007;65(11):490-502. Blumberg JB, Basu A, Krueger CG, et al. Impact of cranberries on gut microbiota and cardiometabolic health: proceedings of the cranberry health research conference 2015. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(4):759S-770S. Blumberg JB, Camesano TA, Cassidy A, et al. Cranberries and their bioactive constituents in human health. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(6):618-632.