Holiday Feasting Without the Cranberries

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Are your holidays going to be berry-free? (Mathieu Belange/Reuters)

The healthiest food on the holiday menu may soon be in short supply.

Growing awareness of the health benefits of cranberries, combined with poor weather conditions, may lead to shortages of the tart red berry this holiday season, reports The Wall Street Journal. “We won’t have any left for Christmas,” Robert Keane, a spokesman for Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, told The Journal.

A cranberry grower in Wareham, Mass., told the newspaper his overall crop is down 30 percent because of poor growing conditions. Overall, growers will produce about seven million barrels of the fruit in the United States and Canada — that’s one million less than a year ago, according to The Journal. The problem is that cranberries, which have a 16-month production cycle, thrive after cold winters and lots of rain. So last winter’s warm temperatures and low rainfall meant a less bountiful cranberry harvest this year.

Compounding the problem is that cranberries are more popular than ever. Cranberry juice has long been a popular home remedy for urinary tract infections. Health experts originally thought the fruit acids in the juice explained the benefit, but more recently, research has shown the berry contains compounds called proanthocyanidins, or PACs, that work against the type of bacteria that cause urinary infections. Importantly, the PACs have even been shown to work against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

And cranberries have five times the antioxidant content of broccoli. Other research has shown that cranberries may protect against cancer and heart disease because they contain phytochemicals that counteract oxidative stress and decrease inflammation, among other effects.

And while cranberry juice and dried cranberry snacks will still be available, prices are expected to rise due to the shortage. If you decide to stock up on fresh cranberries before they run out, the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association advises that you double wrap them in plastic without washing before you freeze them. And when you do decide to use the frozen berries, you’ll get better results if you don’t thaw them first.

For an excellent summary and graphic explaining how cranberries grow, check out this site from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Read the original Wall Street Journal article here.