If you’ve ever hiked an off-road wooded path and stumbled upon wild blackberry bushes, you know the plump purple berries taste deliciously sweet right off the bush. If they don’t grow wild in your area, you can get the berries year-round from the produce or freezer section of your grocery store -- or maybe from a farmers market during the warmer months of the year. Depending where in the United States you live, ripe blackberries can be found from May through September.
Berries in Season
Blackberries, which are native to North America and parts of Eurasia, mostly grew wild until cultivation began in the late 1800s. The U.S. Pacific Northwest and the European country of Serbia lead the world’s production of blackberries, with Oregon being the top-producing U.S. state. California, Mexico and Guatemala expanded their blackberry farming in recent decades. Commercial berry production occurs in various other states, including Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas. While blackberries grow and ripen from late spring to early fall, peak season in the United States runs from July to August -- with the harvest beginning earlier in Southern states and later in the Northwest.
Low in calories at about 60 per cup, blackberries are a guilt-free sweet treat for anyone who’s trying to lose weight. They’re one of the highest-fiber fruits around, with almost 8 grams per cup of berries, which is a big chunk of the 25 to 38 grams of daily fiber recommended for good health by the Institute of Medicine. Blackberries contain some soluble fiber, which may help lower cholesterol, and as a seedy fruit, they're especially rich in insoluble fiber, which provides "roughage" to help prevent constipation.
A cup of blackberries provides half of the daily value of vitamin C, which is necessary for healthy skin and communication between nerves, and one-third of the DV for vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and bone health. That same serving provides a third of the DV for manganese, a mineral that plays many roles in your metabolism.
Phytochemicals in Blackberries
Eating blackberries year-round is a wise choice because the purple gems contain a variety of plant substances, or phytochemicals, that promote health and fight disease. Some of the phytochemicals are also antioxidants – which protect your body’s cells against damage from harmful free radicals – giving blackberries one of the highest antioxidant levels of all the fruits. In fact, scientists measured the total antioxidant compounds in 50 foods -- including blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries -- based on typical serving sizes. Blackberries were ranked at the top of the list in the study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2006.
The anthocyanins and ellagic acid in blackberries are not only antioxidants, but they have cancer-protective properties. An anthocyanin-rich blackberry extract may protect against colon cancer by helping preserve cell DNA, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2011, but research using the actual fruit is lacking.
Eating berries, including blackberries, may benefit brain health. Compounds in berries help prevent inflammation in the brain by changing the way brain cells communicate, according to a review published in the Journal of Agricultural Chemistry in 2012. The authors found evidence that these changes in brain signaling may improve motor coordination and help prevent age-related memory loss.
Choosing, Storing and Serving Your Berries
When purchasing blackberries, look for fruits that are deep purple to almost black in color. Choose plump berries without dampness or mold between fruits or on the bottom of the container. Store them in the fridge in the plastic or cardboard container with holes that they probably came in. Otherwise, place them gently into a shallow container lined with paper towels. Don’t wash blackberries until you’re ready to use them, which should be within three to six days.
Pop plain, fresh berries into your mouth, or use them to top yogurt, cereal or salads. Add a few blackberries to a pitcher of water, muddle against the side and refrigerate overnight for a refreshing fruit-kissed beverage. Or blend frozen berries into smoothies to add color, fiber and sweetness. For a variety of fruity indulgences, use blackberries to make pies, cobblers or jam.
Blackberries vs. Raspberries
It’s easy to confuse blackberries with their black raspberry cousins because both are purple and belong to the Rubus family of fruits, which grow on thorny bushes called brambles. They’re dubbed “aggregate” fruits because each blackberry or raspberry is made of a bunch of tiny drupelets, each containing a minuscule seed – hence the grainy feel in your mouth.
If you go berry picking or see them side by side in containers, you’ll notice differences between the two types of berries. Blackberries are juicier, larger and have a characteristic oblong shape, rather than a round form. While raspberries separate from their cores when picked, ending up with a hollowed-out center, the soft cores of blackberries remain intact when they’re picked. So if you hold a blackberry and a black raspberry side by side, the blackberry feels heavier than the fragile, hollow raspberry.