July 29, 2009
By Leslie Gallo
Thought much about so-called superfruits lately? If you thumb through newspapers or magazines on a regular basis, you probably see the word so often it doesnt impress you anymore. For years, blueberries, revered for their antioxidants, were most often associated with this term. But really, plenty of fruits fit the bill. Beyond antioxidant properties, there are numerous other claims to superfruit fame. Cranberries promote urinary tract health. Bananas are a phenomenal source of potassium. Pomegranates are said to aid weight loss and reduce blood pressure, and mangosteens are reputed to boost energy and immune function. But, before all of these, there was the elderberry.
For centuries, the elderberry has been known as one of the most-effective medicinal berries grown. Generally, its known as a potent antioxidant that, among other things, promotes cardiovascular health and mediates immune response.
The elderberry comes in two primary varieties: the lesser-known North American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and the more-popular variety, the European elderberry (S. nigra). There is also a red elderberry (S. pubens) grown in North America, but this variety, frankly, tastes rather unpleasant. The North American elderberry often grows wild along roadways and has distinctive large berry clusters that closely resemble Queen Annes lace. Austria is home to the best cultivation programs, resulting in the Haschberg elderberry, arguably one of the most-potent varieties available. These rich, deep-purple berries grow on bushes that produce beautiful white flowers in the spring before forming berry clusters in late summer. These flowers are also highly sought after for their immune-boosting properties. Elderberries are ready for harvest beginning mid-July in lower altitudes to late August or early September in higher elevations.
Unlike other berriessuch as blueberries, blackberries and strawberriesthat can be popped off the bush and happily consumed out of hand, elderberries are typically not eaten raw because, similar to the cranberry, they are quite (some might say extremely) tart. They need to be cooked first to mellow the flavor, and sometimes fruit juices or sugars are added.
Elderberries are a great source of vitamin C and potassium, and are a welcome addition to many recipes. The most-common application is elderberry wine, although they also go into typical berry applications, such as pie, dumplings, jam and sauce.
One of elderberrys most-popular uses in foods and beverages is as a natural deep-red to red-purple colorant derived from the berries inherently high anthocyanin content. Elderberry is often relied upon to enhance the color of red-purple beverages for the simple reason that naturally derived fruit juices often vary in color due to seasonal crop differences. Elderberry can be used to enhance a weak hue and provide consistent coloration.
Elderberry anthocyanins, like most anthocyanins, are pH-dependent and work best in a pH range of 2.0 to 4.5, providing a deep red color to beverages, confections and other applications.. Also, they are also sensitive to temperature and light, so heat pasteurization and long-term exposure to light must factor into the decision to use an anthocyanin-based colorant.
Elderberrys historical and extensive use in traditional medicine has prompted scientists to study the medicinal powers that naturally occur in certain fruits. Much research has focused around the effects related to elderberrys high content of anthocyanins, especially cyanidin-3-glucoside (C3G) and other flavonoids. Elderberry anthocyanins have been found to be potent in many crucial capacities, including antioxidant activity, enhanced immune function, cardiovascular health and endurance. They also have been shown to relieve pain and lessen inflammation.
Perhaps most important is research showing elderberry flavonoids lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, reduce triglycerides and inhibit lipid oxidationthree of the major triggers of cardiovascular disease. Given the notoriously elevated incidence of heart disease in the United States, elderberry should be tapped as a valuable ingredient in functional foods and beverages. In addition, it has been found that C3G is an effective pain-management tool and diminishes inflammation. Given elderberrys significantly high level of C3G, it is a natural additive for products seeking to alleviate these symptoms.
Elderberries can easily be formulated into healthy snack foods, a category that, even in a sluggish economy, offers exceptional growth year after year. Rather than relying on a whole berry, which is subject to natural variation, Artemis International, Inc., Fort Wayne, IN offers a range of standardized elderberry extracts at 3.2%, 6.5%, 13%, and 25% anthocyanins, as well as elderberry fruit powder and proprietary elderberry blends.
Despite government efforts to publicize the benefits of a fruit- and vegetable-laden eating style, including a recommendation for 5 to 10 servings a day, the vast majority of Americans fall far short of this goal. Fruit and berry extracts make it easy and affordable to get the perks of a fruit serving into in-between meal snacks.
Respect your elders? Of course. More so, respect the elderberry.
Leslie Gallo is the marketing and operations manager for Artemis International, Inc., Fort Wayne, IN. Artemis specializes in anthocyanins, especially darkly-pigmented berries high in phenolic compounds known to possess beneficial health properties. The company offers berry powders, extracts and specialty concentrates for the food, beverage and dietary-supplement industry, in addition to proprietary blends targeted to meet specific health-care needs. For more information, e-mail [email protected] .
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