Can You Eat Fresh Cranberries Without Cooking Them?

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While we often think of cranberries as an ingredient in cranberry sauce or fall and winter baked goods, you can eat fresh, raw cranberries. Cranberries have numerous health benefits, including a high concentration of antioxidants. Use raw cranberries in a variety of foods to add a tart, fresh flavor to salads, relishes and other dishes.

Benefits

Fresh, raw cranberries retain all of their phytochemicals and antioxidant properties. Heat, processing and storage all reduce antioxidant levels, according to Marian Burros, author of "Eating Well; Another Reason to Eat Cranberries," published in the New York Times. Cranberries may protect against urinary tract infections, have antiviral properties, and even help prevent cancer and heart attacks. Including raw cranberries in your diet is one of the best ways to take advantage of all the tiny berry has to offer.

Types

During the fall, bags of bright red berries appear on store shelves. The cultivated cranberry is plumper than its wild counterpart. Wild cranberries and European varieties are smaller than the berry grown in Canada and the northern United States. The inner flesh of the berry is pale and you may even find white cranberries available at times; however, deeper red berries have higher antioxidant levels.

Function

You can use raw cranberries to add a tart flavor to fresh relishes and salads, or sweeten them to reduce their natural sour taste. Try making a tasty relish by combining fresh cranberries, apple, orange and sugar. Add pecans, Grand Marnier or maple syrup if desired. Process together in a meat grinder or food processor. Serve with turkey, or even as a spread on biscuits, pancakes or scones.

Considerations

Cranberries are too tart for most people to want to eat them out of hand, but you can sweeten them and use them along with other fruits in a fruit salad or toss a handful into a lightly sweetened smoothie. Chop cranberries and toss with sugar, then allow to macerate briefly if you would prefer a sweeter taste. Try stirring sweetened raw cranberries into yogurt for a healthy breakfast or even tossing a few on top of your morning cereal.

Potential

While most of us are used to cooked cranberries, integrating raw berries into your diet is an ideal way to increase your intake of valuable antioxidants. The alternative is 100 percent cranberry juice; however, most people find it unpalatable. Experiment with cranberry spreads and relishes or using sweetened fresh cranberries in your foods. If you prefer to avoid sugar, try sweetening your berries with natural agave syrup, stevia or an artificial sweetener.

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