The Next Big Berry

Mj 618_348_the next big berry
Sergey Chushkin / Getty Images

Superfoods come and go; one minute they’re being “discovered” and the next they’re inescapable, before finally being replaced by the next better thing. A newcomer with staying power is the dark purple fruit known as the aronia berry, otherwise called the chokeberry, but we think the name doesn’t do justice to the surprisingly palatable fruit, which has a distinct dry, astringent tartness similar to that of wine grapes.

With off-the-charts antioxidant levels (two to four times as high as rivals the acai berry, goji berry, wild blueberries, and cranberries, according to USDA studies), the aronia is an aggressive fighter against free radical damage caused by stress, poor diet, sun exposure, environmental pollution, and illness. While the anthocyanin-rich fruit’s been attracting notice over the last few years, it’s likely to hit critical mass soon; health industry forecaster recently called out the berry under the headline “5 New Food Products Set Pace for 2014 Trends.”

Fad or not, a few more reasons it makes sense to start thinking seriously about the chokeberry: Unlike superfruits acai, goji, and mangosteen, aronia is native to the U.S., which means that eating it is like rooting for the home team (the berry was part of the diet and medicine arsenal of the American Indians). Since it’s local, aronia doesn’t have to travel extreme distances to end up in your cold-pressed juice. Its eco-friendly credentials are boosted by the fact that it’s remaking farming on a smaller scale in the Midwest, where the plant was reintroduced in the late nineties, starting with the Sawmill Hollow Farm in Iowa’s Missouri Valley. Its organic product and devoted proselytizing of the fruit’s health and environmental benefits led to a revival that’s spread to states like Wisconsin and Nebraska. The berries are naturally pest- and disease-resistant and don’t require pesticides.

And unlike many of the superfruits, aronia berries can be bought and eaten whole and raw (they’re generally sold “fresh-frozen,” or flash-frozen at peak picking time), in addition to as a juice or extract. Use them as you would the blueberry: juiced, thrown into oatmeal or pancakes, sauced to serve alongside meats, or eaten raw for a tannic tang. At nearly half the price per pound of acai berries, it’s easier than ever to get your fix of one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet, even for non-Midwesterners. Pick up a supply on Amazon or, if you’ve got some land and the inclination, try your hand at growing your own sustainable, low-maintainence shrub. [$25;]

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