Don’t Be Fooled By Big – Get the Skinny on Small
There is currently a commercial for blueberry juice on TV that shows the characters standing in a field with a typically overall-clad “Maine blueberry farmer”. Part of this goofy pitch is to show off the blueberries, presumably straight from the barren, lined up in their pints.
But the blueberries look so big. So uniform. Are these truly wild blueberries straight from the harvest?
If they are from barrens in Maine as the commercial exhorts, they surely are wild. But something seems odd. It’s as if these outsized spheres might be photogenic stand-ins for the distinctively small, variant wild.
Wild or Whoops?
It’s a common gaffe. It can be seen repeated more often than you might think, in demonstrations of recipes on home and morning shows or by local chefs showcasing their concoctions. When topping a salmon entrée or truffle with the delicious and aesthetically pleasing blueberry, they seem to think the biggest of the big is the best way to flaunt their dish. While gargantuan blue orbs roll around on the plate, it makes a person wonder – are these cultivated berries chosen strictly for their size and consistency and not their taste and nutritional value?
It’s understandable. We are a nation that loves big. We choose large screens, we supersize, we value mass and acreage, we revere the guy with more. It’s only natural. But when a chef or food purveyor makes the mistake of choosing berries purely for their size, they sacrifice the privilege of saying they use wild, and wild is where the benefit is.
An Education in Small
Wild blueberries are native to North America where they have grown naturally for thousands of years. Their hardscrabble roots, thriving in challenging soil and four-season climates make them what they are: an array of naturally distinctive variations in skin color, height, taste, and fruit size. Part of this distinctiveness is their relative smallness when compared to their cultivated counterparts that have been planted and grown other parts of the country.
Wild blueberry fields and barrens actually produce many different lowbush blueberry clones, which account for the variations in color and size that characterize the wild blueberry crop. When you eat wild blueberries, part of what you taste is the variety of sweet and tangy berries together. It’s kind of a mouth explosion – a taste experience that can’t be duplicated in any other berry. It’s this variation of color, size, and taste that gives the wild blueberry its mystique.
Efforts to plant truly wild blueberries elsewhere have been impossible to achieve, and as a result, wild blues are native only to Northern American regions situated within fifty miles of the coast. In areas of Down East Maine and Canada where these wild blueberries grow, they are a source of pride. In late summer, the talk is strictly of the harvest, and fairs and festivals revolve around the crop, with pie eating contests, facility tours, and the crowning of Blueberry princesses and queens. It’s the time of year when small and wild reign.
Selling Health? Sell Small.
Most of the best chefs and food industry professionals understand the distinctive qualities of the wild blueberry, while some seem stuck on size. In fact, wild blueberries have superior performance – they maintain their taste, texture, shape and color throughout manufacturing and freezing, which makes them perfect for recipes.
But here’s the best benefit of small: the more diminutive wild blueberry delivers the best nutritional power. Small is the key here: the skin of the berry is where we find nutritional potent antioxidants, and small berries provide a higher skin-to-pulp ratio. As a result, their nutritional value skyrockets. So, if you’re selling nutrition in your dish or product and not using wild because you think cultivated are more photogenic, you’re missing the boat.
Native, wild, distinctive, nutritionally powerful, all in a small package. So what’s the deal, chefs and ad campaign managers? Let’s stop equating big with better. Instead, let’s embrace small over big and variation over uniformity. Next time you want to praise the chef’s crème brulee for the consistency of size and color of those giant blue globes, you might instead venture a polite, “Hey, are these wild?”