-Aronia berries: lots of potential
-Agriculture: cultivating, growing, researching
-Dining Services innovates: Great in ice cream and panna cotta
Experts say aronia berries contain more antioxidants than blueberries, acai berries and even goji berries. Centuries ago, European settlers called the plump, tart fruit “chokeberry.” A name change and new awareness of health benefits have led to aronia berry shrubs being planted by farmers throughout the U.S.
The pea-sized blue-black berries have oxygen radical absorbance capacity (a way to measure antioxidant strength) that’s off the charts—one of the highest values ever recorded for a fruit, according to the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Read more here.
More than 60 new products with aronia berries, mostly juices, wines and other beverages, have been introduced in the U.S. in the last five years, and it’s growing in popularity.
“I don’t think this is a passing fad,” Hy-Vee health and wellness supervisor Stacey Loftus recently told USA Today.
The University of Connecticut’s plant science department, UConn’s Spring Valley Farm and dining services are among the first to jump on the aronia berry trend. For the past few years, Mark Brand, professor of horticulture in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture in UConn’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has been researching the tart berry with the big potential. Students have been compiling data on everything that goes along with growing the tart fruit: breeding, selecting and propagating.
“The bushes aren’t too low to the ground, and they don’t have spines, like other fruit bushes,” says Julia Cartabiano, farm manager of Spring Valley Farm, which is a residential option for ecology-minded students. It’s located about four and a half miles from campus, and recently students were gathering aronia berries, a process much like blueberry picking.
They’re perennial (no need to replant) pest-resistant plants. After harvest, they become sweeter and easier to work with after having been frozen, Cartabiano says.
The berries are growing not only at Spring Valley Farm, but also at the plant science research farm, and a smaller campus garden. They were even featured as the grand finale at a Farm to Chef celebration, in a panna cotta with UConn Dairy Bar Ice Cream, a sweet end to a menu that included such items as poblano peppers stuffed with chili cheese fries, minestrone with local veggies and salmon filet cakes with local kale, beets and maple syrup.
“Dining services has been very willing to introduce aronia berries by being creative with their culinary prowess,” Cartabiano says. “Aronia berries can work in muffins, and the campus dairy is going to use them in ice cream.”