This year's Florida Blueberry Festival will feature blueberries in every possible combination, preparation and form. Indeed, during our cooking demonstrations we will feature fresh whole blueberries, fresh crushed and mashed berries, cooked berries, dried berries and even fermented berries in the form of blueberry wine.
Processing, preparation and cooking can affect not only the flavor and texture of foods, but also their nutritional benefit. I am often asked if the methods such as those we will demonstrate during our live cooking programs have any significant effect on the healthful benefits of the berries. The majority of the preparatory methods we will demonstrate in all of our programs involves the use of fresh fruit. There is no significant difference, in terms of nutritional benefit, from the consumption of whole fruit versus freshly crushed or mashed berries.
The dried blueberries, which are used in the preparation of Dr. Mike's Grassroots Gourmet Blueberry Sage Duck Sausage, are slightly different with respect to their nutritional benefits versus their fresher brethren. Because the water content has been removed, they tend to contain less of the water soluble vitamins such as the vitamin B complex and vitamin C. However, they still contain all of the anthocyanins and phenols that make blueberries such a great source of powerful antioxidants. In fact, because of the dehydration process, these dried blueberries tend to contain about 4 times more of these antioxidant compounds compared to fresh berries, per equivalent weight. In addition, all the fiber remains intact after the blueberries are dried. However, when shopping and purchasing dried blueberries make sure you are purchasing only the dried berries and not dried berries treated with additional sugars, glucose syrup or other fruit juice concentrates.
Cooked blueberries are likewise very similar to fresh blueberries in their health benefits. Blueberries will retain the bulk of their antioxidant integrity until the cooking temperature exceeds 350°F. Aggressive boiling and microwaving of the fruits causes the most loss in antioxidant capacity. Similarly, cooked berries tend to contain less of the water-soluble vitamin C and folate. However the amounts of thiamine, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B 6, vitamin A and carotene are comparable to fresh. The cooked berries even tend to have slightly more riboflavin and vitamin E. The cooking process also frees up more absorbable calcium. The cooked berries contain almost twice as much (15 mg versus 9 mg) calcium and more absorbable phosphorus and potassium than raw berries. The amounts of zinc and magnesium are comparable between the two.
The difference between frozen and fresh berries is even less remarkable. Unlike other foods which may lose some of their nutritional value after undergoing the freezing process, blueberries seem to maintain their excellent nutritional status. Most importantly, recent studies have demonstrated that that even after being frozen for 3 to 6 months at 0°F blueberries maintain almost all of the antioxidant capacity seen in the freshest berries.
So no matter the form required, there is a blueberry for every need. And you can rest assured that you are getting the best these little blue dynamos have to offer; whether fresh, frozen, cooked or dried.