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Excerpt from "A is for Aronia: A Guide to Black Chokeberry Edibles and Sundries"

An Introduction to Aronia

by Cheryl Saker


Several images pop into our minds when we think of the color purple. First we envision a hue formed by mixing blue and red. Perhaps we saw the movie with the same name. Or a vision of the jolly and bouncy character loved by children is dancing around. Is it a thought of royalty? For some it may be a memory from the past of the purple people eater. Could it be the color to wear when you are old? Or is it the plump, highly nutritious berry, Aronia melanocarpa? Familiarity occurs with this entire list except for the last item. Yet for those involved with nutrition and health trends, Aronia melanocarpa is gaining much-deserved attention as the purple of choice.

Aronia melanocarpa, referred to commonly as black chokeberry, is a deciduous shrub grown in many regions of the United States. Native to the Great Lakes and northeast United States it is found as far south as northern sections of Texas and Florida, parts of the Appalachian Mountains, west along the Missouri River corridor and along the western coast in the states of Oregon and Washington. Our neighbors to the north grow the berry from Nova Scotia to Ontario. It is a member of the Rosaceae ( rose) family and depending on the cultivar can grow from three to twelve feet tall.

Aronia melanocarpa is a hardy and tolerant plant. The best berry production occurs when the plant has full sun and moist but well-drained soil which is slightly acidic. Berries form on clusters and mature in late summer when they have developed their beautiful purple hue. For food purposes the cultivars grown most widely are ‘Viking,’ ‘Nero,’ ‘Elata’ and ‘Aron.’ While all cultivars produce berries with antioxidant qualities those developed for food production generally are more palatable and provide more juice.

This amazing berry has traveled the world. Aronia melanocarpa berries and leaves were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes to treat colds and other ailments. They included the berry in their daily diet for health. Europeans who settled in the New World found the berry to be astringent and chalky in taste thus giving it the nickname choke –berry. Introduced to Russia in the 19th century and developed into commercial cultivation in the late 1940’s where it is used as an antihypertensive herbal drug. Commercial cultivation spread to Sweden in the late 1980’s and the berry is now grown widely in Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Baltic’s, Russia, Czech Republic and Slovakia. It also has been introduced to Japan. Some estimates suggest Poland is the world leader in Aronia production with tens of thousands of berries harvested each year.

In addition to being extraordinary Aronia producers, the European Aronia community has been the research leader of this berry’s health benefit potential. Studies recently have commenced in the United States with animal subjects that show promise with Aronia in the diet. A web-based search of Aronia will take you to articles touting the antioxidant, antimutagenic, cardioprotective, antihyperglycemic and hepatoprotective qualities. To the average consumer this is quite a mouthful. But we do know that this berry has very high concentrations of phytochemicals called anthocyanins.

Aronia’s chemical properties provide an extremely high antioxidant value referred to as the oxygen radical absorbing capacity (ORAC). ORAC values of Aronia are reportedly five times greater than blueberries, eight times greater than cranberries and four times greater than lingonberries. Oxidative stress in humans is causative in conditions such as metabolic disorders and from physical exercise. The antioxidative qualities of Aronia can lower the effects of these conditions. Also, several research studies note the inhibited growth of various cancer cells when consuming this berry daily.

Europeans have an even broader appreciation for the power of Aronia and advertize the berry as a tremendous boost to the immune system for a broad spectrum of conditions including brain dysfunctions (senile dementia, Parkinson disease), arterial plaque build-up, inflammatory diseases, high blood pressure to list a few.

Perhaps the best analogy for human Aronia consumption is to think of our bodies as cars. Like the car our body can have a negative reaction to the oxidative process. Aronia has the capability of slowing down the oxidative process similar to wax for our car. Daily consumption is a good preventative food for many conditions.

Since berries are a high-density food nutritionists recommend whole berry consumption. In addition to the nutritive benefits the whole berry provides a good source of fiber in the diet. Whole berries that are fresh, frozen or dehydrated meet that criterion. The juicing process creates the juice and pomace (solid matter) so it is important to find a way to incorporate both into the diet.

Aronia berries can be used in a variety of recipes. However, to maintain the high level of antioxidants the food processing methods need to maintain low temperatures for as short a period as possible. Some of the recipes in this cookbook use the raw berry or juice without high heat allowing the full nutritional properties of the berry to be ingested. No study has indicated any toxicity with Aronia for humans or pets. So enjoy!

Aronia does have an astringent taste so the berries are used mostly as a food additive ingredient versus a singular consumption food. Also, the berries seem to be more flavorful after a cold treatment in the freezer. Many people find that with a slow introduction to the berry in food combinations they develop a taste for the berry. Some actually report a craving for the berry. The following lists suggest some ways to start Aronia berry consumption process.

Whole Fresh/Frozen Berry

· For recipes using cherries or cranberries substitute with 1/4 to 1/3 aronia berries.

· Stir into cooked cereals such as oatmeal.

· Stir a tablespoon into fruited yogurt.

Dehydrated Berry Bits

· Add to any baked goods such as oatmeal cookies, muffins, pound cakes, pancakes, etc. Steep with green or white teas.

Juice

· Add to purchased orange juice, lemonade and apple juice.

· Substitute for a portion or all of liquids in sauce recipes and baked goods (the product will be purple).

Pomace from Juice Processing

· Sprinkle on cereals or add to smoothies.

· Sprinkle a teaspoon on pet food.

Aronia berries are becoming readily available especially throughout the growing regions where they are found in farmer’s markets and pick your own orchards. Consumers who do not have access to these markets can often find them at local organic and/or health food stores. If not, ask the store manager to consider adding them to the store’s product line.

Several juice companies are using Aronia as an additive ingredient for coloring and antioxidant value. One nationwide company lists Aronia juice as the second ingredient in almost all of their juice blends. Reading the ingredients on the label will surprise you with the number of products that include Aronia.

Cheryl Saker has had an extensive career in education teaching classes in the family and consumer science area. Health, foods/nutrition, international foods, adult education cooking classes are among the content areas in which she has expertise. She has developed curriculum using recipe development and nutritional analysis methodologies. After making a choice to stay home with young sons she started a catering service. Upon returning to the classroom she continued to coordinate catering projects for events hosting up to a thousand people. She earned an undergraduate degree in family and consumer science from Bowling Green University, Ohio and a Master’s in career and technical education from the University of Nebraska. A lifelong learner, she continued to set the bar for learning and earned the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification in Career and Technical Education.Following retirement from teaching the author pursued her interest in horticulture by taking classes and entering the Master Gardener training program with the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension. During this period she began research on the Aronia melanocarpa Michx. berry and realized the dynamic health qualities of this berry. As a result the crop has become a family endeavor with over 2,000 shrubs planted in southwest Iowa.

Purchase Info: This 6 X 9 paperback book can be purchased at Create Space https://www.createspace.com/3549301 or Amazon for $17.95.


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