It’s red, it’s an antioxidant and it is rocketing in popularity. It can also be easily sweetened, it’s bake stable and it can be infused with other flavours. Oh yes, and it can cure cystitis.

There are a lot of claims made about the common cranberry - and if recent evidence is to be believed they appear to be true. In fact, a couple more claims have recently been made: cranberries boost good cholesterol (HDL) and help circulation.

In case you think I have swallowed the sales patter along with the cranberries, let me emphasise that a health symposium held at the botanical gardens at Kew lined up a practising professor of urology, Stuart Stanton, and two nutritionists to present the facts on cranberries and answer any questions.

But why should all this interest bakers? Well, aside from the fact that Christmas is coming and cranberries are a festive red colour, almost every national newspaper and food programme on TV seems obsessed with health at the moment. So adding a selection of cranberries can not only add colour but also a healthy image to breads, muffins, Danish and flapjacks. I expect they are already being seen in mince pies with a difference.

Health shops and supermarkets are now selling a fruit mix with cranberries as a hand-held snack and sweet alternative to the traditional chocolate bar. The juice and purée are also highly nutritious and if used cost effectively can again add colour and value enabling a premium price to be charged - customers should pay for all that health!

Cranberries undoubtedly help in the indulgence versus health debate because as with blueberries they help combine the two.

Cranberries and related products such as the juice are available in the UK through Ocean Spray and distributed through wholesaler JO Sims of Spalding, Lincolnshire, which has nationwide distribution.


=== Health issue ===

Ocean Spray is an agricultural co-operative owned by more than 650 cranberry growers in the US and Canada. It was formed 75 years ago by three cranberry growers from Massachusetts and New Jersey

Cranberries grow in very acidic soil or, even better, in wet fields. There are four little air pouches in the centre of the cranberry which means it floats well making it slightly easier to harvest them in the boggy fields than on dry land.

They have a hard outer skin that becomes softer when heated. Their natural flavour is slightly sour so they balance sweet products well, but they can also be dried or infused with a sweetener or even other flavours.

Cranberries are harvested in autumn. This year cranberry lakes were created at Kew Gardens as an autumn spectacular and a publicity stunt that received widespread press coverage. With such marketing muscle behind it the cranberry’s future looks rosy.