Besides the fantastic flavors of berries, they are some of the healthiest foods available to humans. If fruits are the most natural foods around - containing disease-fighting antioxidants but no bad cholesterols - then think of berries as a "super sized" healthy category of fruits. Five berries - blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries - are counted among the top 50 foods with the highest levels of antioxidants.
Blackberries also contain high levels of fiber and vitamin C plus ellagic acid, a compound known to help fight cancer, viruses and bacteria. Raspberries are known to have anti-inflammatory benefits, helpful in reducing pain associated with arthritis, gout and other inflammatory conditions. Research indicates that blueberries may improve eye fatigue and night vision as well as protect against heart disease and damage from stroke. Good things all but it's the sumptuously unique and juicy flavors of berries that get my taste buds revved up.
When buying fresh berries, there are a couple important things to remember:
* Select unblemished berries in dry, unstained containers. The color of raspberries should be medium to bright red, depending on the variety. Blackberries should be shiny and black - avoid those that are dull or reddish. The berries themselves should be free of surface moisture, as moisture accelerates decay.
* Store fresh berries uncovered in the refrigerator as soon as possible after purchase. Wash just prior to use; if desired, dry on a paper towel. Serve/eat them at room temperature for the best flavors.
* The only shortcoming of berries is their short shelf life - they should be consumed within two to three days of purchase. If you're not eating them immediately, berries may be frozen up to six months with or without sugar added.
Jacqui Love Marshall lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Prime time for berries
Strawberry: June 1 - June 30
Red Raspberry: June 14 - July 20
Loganberry: June 20 - July 10
Black Raspberry: July 1 - July 31
Marionberry: July 10 - Aug. 10
Boysenberry: July 10 - Aug. 10
Blackberry: Aug. 10 - Sept. 15
Blackberry-Yogurt Smoothies (makes 4 cups)
12 oz. blackberries (3 cups)
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
3 Tbsp honey
1 pinch ground cardamom
Blend ingredients in a blender on high speed. Serve or store in refrigerator.
Fresh Spinach & Strawberry Salad (serves 8-10)
12 oz. torn fresh spinach
3 cups halved or sliced fresh strawberries
1/3 cup sliced green onions
1/3 cup salad oil
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup broken walnuts
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine spinach, strawberries and green onions in a large bowl. Cover for up to 2 hours.
2. Blend oil and lemon juice; chill. Shake before pouring over salad. Top salad with nuts and sesame seeds. Season as desired.
Blueberry Granola Bars (makes 18)
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
11/2 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups fresh blueberries
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9- by 9-inch square baking pan. In a medium saucepan, combine honey, brown sugar, oil, and cinnamon, and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 2 minutes; do not stir.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats and blueberries. Stir in honey mixture until thoroughly blended. Spread onto the prepared baking pan, gently pressing mixture flat. Bake until lightly browned, about 40 minutes.
3. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 18 bars, each 1-1/2-inch by 3-inch.
Easy Berry Parfait (serves 6)
1/3 cup blueberries
1/3 cup strawberries
1 (8 oz) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blackberries
1 pint vanilla frozen yogurt
1. In a blender, combine blueberries, strawberries and whipped topping. Blend until smooth.
2. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in raspberries and blackberries. Layer the berry mixture with the frozen yogurt in 6 dessert glasses, finishing with a berry layer. Serve at once.
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