Good Guy Noir: Nutrition is the New Black
Whoever said black never goes out of style must have been referring to nutrition. Dark berries are certainly a runway favorite. They are high on the list of foods that provide excellent benefits to our health thanks to that dark color – it’s your tip off that you are in the presence of anthocyanins. Dark skin is a fruit UV protector, and may be the key to our protection as well, as a scavenger of free radicals that cause aging and serious diseases. So grab a bowl and head to the nearest abandoned schoolyard, back lot, or backyard, and go in search of the dark colored berry. You’ll come back with a bowlful of sweetness and nutrition that never fails to turn a serious style maven’s head in pies, in ice cream, as a jam or a vinaigrette.
Blackberry or Black Raspberry?
Both blackberries and black raspberries might be harder to find if you live in the North. While red raspberries are adaptable in colder climates, black berries are not as hardy, and grow more often in southern Maine, or in sheltered areas to the north. But being in the realm of the dark colored berry can be a source of confusion: often we refer to blackberries when we really mean black raspberries.
While they look very similar, blackberries and black raspberries have slightly different growing seasons, and are slightly different when picked. If the little white core is left on the plant at picking time, you’ll know it is part of the raspberry family – raspberries easily pull from the core, leaving the hollow fruit – it’s how we can tell if the fruit is ripe. Blackberries, on the other hand, don’t separate from the core.
While both black-colored berries provide excellent nutritional benefits, black raspberries are purported to have higher antioxidant properties. Tastes differ as well. Black raspberries will be harder to distinguish from a red raspberry whereas blackberries have a taste all their own, and tend to be sweeter and less tangy than black raspberries.
Dark berries are strong performers when it comes to antioxidant activity. As we’ve mentioned, fruit with deeper, darker skin means higher concentrations anthocyanins. Blackberries and black raspberries also have a high skin-to-pulp ratio due to their clumping, or “bramble” fruit, which contributes as well. The result is a high ORAC score. ORAC measures the antioxidant activity in foods by using the cellular antioxidant activity (CAA) assay, which provides information on the uptake, metabolism, distribution and activity of antioxidant compounds in cells.
Black berries also have high fiber content, owing again to their skin. They are high in Vitamin C, manganese and B vitamins, and they have high amounts of phenolic compounds. Phenols are part of the reason we consider wine as being good for our health: they can have wide-ranging benefits, including anti-viral and antioxidant properties.
Studies are currently underway to determine just how beneficial black raspberries will turn out to be. Some preliminary studies suggest they may help to slow breast, cervical, colon and esophageal cancers. You can learn more about berry health benefits.
Blackberry and black raspberries have their challenges. They are fairly fragile, and quick to mold or deteriorate if they are crushed, and while freezing does preserve their glory, when fresh, they stay in shape for only a couple of days. And, as accessible as they are, their thorny branches can act like a barbed wire fence making picking seem more like a prison escape than summer recreation.
But these dark berries are worth the trouble. They are a foraging favorite, found copiously around yards, railroad tracks, and fences, and they grow expansively in the wild, often feeding birds and other creatures attracted to their glowing dark color. But if you prefer to forgo the thorns, these berries can easily be found at supermarkets and farmer’s markets this time of year. They work extremely well with other berries, creating a healthy synergy. Combining black raspberries with wild blueberries in a cobbler or buckle, for example, creates an uniquely surprising palate of yin and yang as well as a powerfully healthful punch.
Blackberries and black raspberries shine on their own, too, enlivening salads and adding flavor and antioxidants to smoothies, jams, muffins, cobblers, pies and wine. They make a sweet snack alone, and their fabulous dark shiny exterior enhances a cheese plate while acting as the perfect tasting accompaniment.
Go to the Dark Side! Try These Black Berry Recipes
Martha Stewart offers up Napoleons with Black Raspberries for a dark indulgence.
Food & Wine’s Marilyn Batali’s Blackberry Pie is a classic from a famous Mom who’d know.
Looking for a crisp with berry synergy? Black rocks Food52.com’s Black Raspberry Wild Blueberry & Marion Blackberry Crisp
Kick back with some homemade Blackberry Wine from the Guardian.