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Boysenberries »« Blueberries: Northern Highbush

Blueberries Rabbiteye

Vaccinium virgatum


Description

Blueberries are the fruits of a shrub that belongs to the same family as the cranberry. These small berries can range in colour from blue to purple to dark red, and are coated with a dusty white bloom that protects them from the sun and spoilage.

Rabbiteye blueberries are one of two main types of blueberries grown in New Zealand – along with New Zealand-bred cultivars, these are the main producer of late-season berries. The yield is typically higher than that of the other type, the Northern Highbush, and unlike the Highbush, the shrub is evergreen. The rabbiteye is native to the southeast of the United States and produces in the warmer months, from January to mid-April.

Blueberries are hailed as a superfood – they’re packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins that not only make the blueberry blue, but can also help destroy free radicals to protect cells and tissues, and potentially reduce the risk of some types of cancer. Research has even shown that blueberries might help to stave off the mental effects of aging.

In addition to all those health benefits, blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, fibre, and manganese, which is good for healthy bone development and metabolising carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Choose blueberries that are firm and uniformly sized, with that dusty bloom – this indicates that they’re fresh – and make sure there are no squashed or mouldy ones if you’re buying them pre-packaged. Store them in the fridge for up to two days in a covered dish lined with a paper towel. If you feel you need to wash them don’t do it until just before you use them, so you don’t remove the protective bloom.

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History

Blueberries are native to North America, and were an important source of food for Native Americans. Folklore said that the berries, known as ‘star berries’ for the star on the blossom end of the berry, were sent by the Great Spirit to feed the children during a famine. Legend also has it that the Pilgrims were given blueberries by the Native Americans to help them get through their first winter in the New World.

Colonists, however, didn’t really catch on to them until the 19th century, when sugar became more widely available and the tart berries could be sweetened.

Commercial cultivation of blueberries is relatively recent; they’ve only been cultivated in North America since the early 20th century, and have only been commercially grown in New Zealand since the 1970s. New varieties were developed in New Zealand in the mid-1980s by the Ruakura Research Centre in Hamilton.

Uses

As well as being an easy-to-eat snack on their own, blueberries are excellent in any dishes involving fruit, from crumbles to pies to muffins to trifles. Try adding them to a morning smoothie with banana and yoghurt for a quick, healthy breakfast, or sprinkle them on your cereal.

An all-American favourite is blueberry pancakes – just add a handful or two of blueberries to your pancake batter. This can work with any other berry, if you don’t have blueberries to hand.

You can also freeze blueberries for up to six months – just don’t wash them beforehand as this will toughen the skin. Freeze them in a single layer before transferring them to an airtight container so they stay free-flowing.

Facts

At least 50 different varieties of blueberries have been identified.

As well as being related to the cranberry, the blueberry bush is also related to the heather, azalea, and the rhododendron.

Blueberries were sometimes used in colonial America as colouring for paint.



Boysenberries »« Blueberries: Northern Highbush

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