Wild Blueberries Making a Name for Themselves in China
When it comes to Wild Blueberry Research, one of the leading experts in Maine is Dr. Vivian Chi-Hua Wu. Dr. Wu is Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Maine, where she directs the Pathogenic Microbiology Laboratory for research in microbiology, food safety and functional food.
Dr. Wu has conducted dozens of studies ranging from the antimicrobial properties of cranberries and Wild Blueberries, to Maine berries as natural preservatives, to how wild blueberries maintain gut health, and most recently, the antiviral properties of Wild Blueberries. Dr. Wu grew up in Taiwan, and one of her passions in life is introducing the people of China to the health benefits of the Wild Blueberry.
We spent a few days in Bar Harbor, Maine, getting to know Dr. Wu and her family and hearing about her fascinating research.
When did you first learn about Wild Blueberries?
I knew about blueberries in general when I was growing up in Taiwan, but I truly came to understand the differences between cultivated and Wild Blueberries in 2003, when I started my research in Maine.
Do you think Wild Blueberries have superior qualities as a food?
Yes, of course! Wild Blueberries have amazing health properties, which make them a rare and special fruit. They are one of the superfruits – with natural phytochemicals such as anthocyanin – and they have higher antioxidant capacity per serving compared to many other fruits. All of these benefits can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is important for everyone.
Do you think there is growing interest in China and around the world in Wild Blueberries?
Yes, very much. The Chinese people are really coming to know blueberries, and for me there is great value in teaching them to recognize the difference between the wild and the cultivated berry. This includes the health benefits and application, but also the wild heritage and the fact that they have been growing in this region of the world for more than 10,000 years.
Why do you think Wild Blueberries are becoming more popular in China?
Since 2009, I have been working with the Wild Blueberry Association of North America to conduct promotional tours in China where we introduce Chinese chefs and food service buyers to the attributes of Wild Blueberries. People in China are now starting to understand the superior health benefits that Wild Blueberries can offer. As healthy foods become more and more important to the Chinese and to people around the world, Wild Blueberries are definitely going to engage people’s interest.
What’s driving the interest in healthy foods in China ?
When a society changes from poor to rich, then food is no longer just for satisfying hunger. This phenomenon is happening in China. The Chinese care more and more about eating to maintain health.
You have been studying the effects Wild Blueberries can have in fighting viruses like Norovirus? What can you share about your research?
We have found that the wild lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) has antiviral properties. There is evidence that the phytochemicals in Wild Blueberries can even work against Norovirus. The results are very promising and we hope to share them in a publication very soon.
We enjoyed meeting your 3-year-old son in Bar Harbor. Does he like Wild Blueberries?
Wild Blueberries are my son’s favorite fruit among all others. If he has a choice, he would go with food products containing wild blueberries. I use very simple ways to serve Wild Blueberries to my son. I add frozen Wild Blueberries into whole milk and let him eat them every morning for breakfast. I also mix frozen Wild Blueberries with plain yogurt or oatmeal. He loves them!