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It's easy to confuse lingonberries and cranberries

Some people don't know the difference between lingonberries and cranberries; many people don't even know that there is a difference. But they are in fact two different species from the same botanical family, the heath family. There are some clear differences.


Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) is at home in Europe and Asia; it grows as a small, upright bush with broad leaves. Lingonberry bushes only grow to about 40 centimetres high and are found in the wild in coniferous forests, moors and heaths and high mountain regions. The north American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) by contrast grows on trailing vines, the leaves are narrow and pointed.

Different sized red berries - similar health benefits

If you saw the red berries side by side, you'd see clear differences. Lingonberries are smallish (roughly pea-sized) and round. On the plants they grow in small clusters. Initially white, they gradually turn bright red or crimson as they ripen. Ripe cranberries by contrast are ruby red and far larger – sometimes as big as small cherries or olives.


Where they resemble each other is in their content of beneficial substances, including organic acids, pectins and fibre. They also contain minerals and vitamins (e.g. 12 mg Vitamin C pro 100 g in lingonberries). Both berries are a good source of phenolic acids and tannins that have an anti-inflammatory effect. Drinking lingonberry or cranberry juice regularly is thought to protect against bladder infections.


Harvest time and processing

Lingonberries ripen in late summer and well into October. What you'll find on the market is almost always wild lingonberries collected in northern and eastern Europe. Wash them carefully before eating them, because they could be contaminated with the eggs of the fox tapeworm. In any case, the berries are sour and slightly bitter and not really suitable for eating raw; they taste far better stewed or made into jelly or jam. Cranberry sauce is a popular addition to roast game, it's traditionally served with turkey at Christmas and it's a colourful accompaniment to baked camembert.

Winter is cranberry time

Fresh cranberries from north America are available in well-stocked supermarkets from October to early January. Check the quality before you buy: look for ripe berries with smooth skins with no wrinkles or spots. You'll find dried cranberries, cranberry juice, jelly, sauce and other products on the shelves the whole year round. Recipes that call for fresh cranberries are equally good made with dried berries that have been soaked for a couple of hours in cranberry or apple juice. 50 g dried cranberries are equivalent to 100 g fresh berries.


Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de