blueberry 12

Everyone raves about the benefits of consuming berries for its anti-inflamatory benefits, particularly blueberries, often known as the antioxidant super fruit due to its high concentration of antioxidants. They are a rich source of phytonutrients, and they contain a significant amount of the antioxidant anthocyanadins that possess great nutritional value. The benefit of eating 2 cups of blueberries every day exceeds the benefits of all other types of berries combined.

Blueberries are one of North America’s indigenous fruit crops, long cherished by native peoples. Early explorers including Champlain and Lewis and Clark encountered a variety of uses by various Indian tribes as an important part of their diet and lifestyle – fresh, dried and powdered. For early colonists, blueberries were probably one of the first familiar foods discovered on the North American continent, since they were very similar to other berry varieties found in Europe. Their abundance, natural sweetness and versatility made them an immediately welcome addition at a time when fresh food was in short supply, and sugar was scarce and expensive. Blueberries were canned and shipped to Union troops during the Civil War in the 1860s.

There is just so much written about Blueberries that we sometimes forget about other berries which are equally or even more nutritious than the famous “super fruit”.

wild bilberries in Suomussalmi, Finland

wild bilberries in Suomussalmi, Finland

 

The forgotten berry cousins

Other berries such as bilberries, lingonberries, raspberries are usually grown wild in Northern Europe and normally grow in xeric, sub-xeric or mesic heath forests or in barren types of bogs where mainly pine or spruce trees grow. Forests are home to, for example, the lingonberry, bilberry, raspberry, common crowberry and cranberry. Bogs are a typical environment of the cloudberry, bog bilberry, crowberry and cranberry. Varieties found on fells include the crowberry, alpine bearberry, lingonberry and bog bilberry.

Suomussalmi, Finland. where wild berries grow

Finland’s forests produce an abundance of nutrient-rich, flavourful foods that can be gathered for free. Yippee!  Wild berries are an important part of our daily diet. Increased consumption of berries is recommended because they contain more vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and polyphenols (a compound with numerous health benefits) than many fruits.

When berries are in season, copious amounts are available. Berries can be enjoyed year-round by freezing them, or preserving them for winter in the form of jam or juice. For the most part, berries should be processed as little as possible so that they retain most of their nutrients when eaten. The highest levels of healthy polyphenol compounds are found in the skin of berries, so it is a good idea to use the leftover material from making juice to prepare other foods.

Suomussalmi is the second southernmost part of the reindeer-herding area in Finland.

Suomussalmi is the second southernmost part of the reindeer-herding area in Finland and home to the World Championship for Berry Picking

Kiantama Oy, the heart of wild berry processing

Kiantama Ltd is the berry company in the Organic Food Finland group.It is situated in Suomussalmi, which is quite far north even from a Helsinki perspective but actually not even in Lapland. In August we visited Kiantama and we also went berry-picking to see for ourselves what lingonberries and bilberries look like in its natural surroundings. The lingonberries were just ripe and red at the time – this was end of August – but the bilberry leaves show already the colors of autumn.  According to Kiantama,

“According to studies, wild berries growing in the northern latitudes are especially rich in health-beneficial ingredients, such as vitamins, flavonoids, minerals and antioxidants. Berries mainly consist of water; 80 to 90% of their fresh weight is water. Out of dry substances, the majority is carbohydrates and organic acids. Berries contain only small amounts of protein and fat. Because berries are low in fat and contain lots of water, just a minimal amount of energy is gained from them. Most of the energy in berries comes from natural sugars.

Health effects of berries are actively studied, and there are always new research results supporting the benefits of eating more berries. For now, health effects of berries have not been approved by the EU, but there are many approved health claims for many of the vitamins and minerals found in berries. Use of berries is supported by many different factors, such as low energy content, small amount of sodium, fiber content, vitamins, minerals and phenolic compounds. Each berry has its own “health profile” which is why a wide range of berries should be enjoyed.”

Bottom line is, its best to consume a variety of berries but enough about the health benefits. Did you know that  every year, Suomussalmi is host to the World Championship of Berry Picking  and this year it will be held on the 7th of September 2013.  The all-time individual class record for lingonberry picking is 27,98 kilos per hour.  So, we decided to try it ourselves.

Berry Picking in the Forest

Bilberry low bushes

Bilberry low bushes

We were given this device called a bilberry scrabbler, a device that combs the berries out of the bushes that has a container attached.  We started with the first bush, and after 20 minutes of squatting over these bushes of 15 to 20 centimetres in height, I really salute the berry pickers.  Its back-breaking-labour!  Not only are the bushes low but sparse as well, which makes a really good workout, standing up, walking and squatting again.  But an experience not to be missed.  This is the season for berry picking so if you are looking to be one with nature, hop on a plane and head over to Finland and try this.

bilberry scrabbler

bilberry scrabbler

Fresh berries at Kiantama

Fresh berries at Kiantama

Can't wait to try some

Can’t wait to try some

 

My harvest

My harvest

Wild Berries preserve available at OPIKA Market, look for Solbio jams and try this recipe:

Wild Berry Cream Cheese Tart (quick recipe)

Ingredients
2 (8-ounce) packages natural cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 organic eggs
12 vanilla wafers
1 (21-ounce) bottled berry filling (Solbio jam)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a paper cupcake liner in each cup of a muffin pan.

Beat cream cheese with a handheld electric mixer until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Place a vanilla wafer, flat side down, in each muffin cup. Spoon cream cheese mixture over wafers. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow tarts to cool completely. Serve with Solbio Berry Preserve on top.

Solbio Organic Wildberry Spread