So berry good: making the most of the Pacific Northwest’s abundant fruit


By Jess Scott Wright, RDN

From fruits to flowers, the unusually warm temperatures have made it a year of precocious bloomers in Washington and the colors of the summer season continue to change early. The blackberries have already turned from their unripe red to that ripe shade of blackish purple indicating they are ready to eat.

Beyond a measure of ripeness and quality, the physical characteristics of a fruit say a lot about how healthy for us it is, especially when it comes to the blackberry. In 2006, a study for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed blackberries as one of the most antioxidant-rich foods available, and physical traits like color and structure are largely

Structurally, a blackberry (like a raspberry) resembles a miniature bunch of grapes that are stuck together. Each individual section on a berry, also known as a drupelet, contains its own seed. Each berry is packed with nutrients like fiber, vitamin C and potassium.

Berries are richer in nutrients and lower in sugar than many other fruits, such as bananas. If you are overweight, have diabetes or show signs of insulin resistance, excess sugar from fruit may hurt your health sooner than the nutrient benefactors improve it. One cup of banana contains 537 mg of potassium, compared to 233 mg for the same amount of blackberries. However, that same cup of banana also contains 34 grams of carbohydrates and only 4 grams of fiber, while the blackberries have 14 grams of carbs and 8 grams of fiber.

Yes, bananas are a good source of potassium, but potassium deficiency is not one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. – diabetes is. Taking sugar into account, if you increase the amount of blackberries to match the potassium power in 1 cup of banana, just over 2 cups of blackberries still have less sugar and over four times the fiber as the banana.

Bottom line: if you’re going to eat fruit regularly, choose berries over a banana, and if you live in the Northwest, you can find ripe, wild blackberries growing almost anywhere you look right now.

Blackberries, like everything else this year, are ahead of schedule by about a month. “We are already picking the late variety and that normally doesn’t start until the end of August,” said Randy Kraght of Barbie’s Berries in Ferndale.

The heat has been both a help and hindrance for growers like Kraght. On one hand, the lack of moisture has helped limit mold for growers.

“I haven’t had to use any fungicide since May 15,” said Kraght, “But SWD is bad this year”.

SWD stands for spotted wing drosophilia, a fruit fly from Asia that didn’t appear in Washington until 2009. SWD is different from regular fruit flies because its saw-like appendages allow it to insert eggs in the walls of healthy, ripening fruit still attached to the vine. Regular fruit flies are only typically attracted by fallen, rotting fruit – hence their nickname “vinegar flies.”

Proper harvest and storage of fruit can help minimize any threat of SWD. Once a berry has been affected, it will begin to show signs within a few days so pay attention to the flesh and color. Discard berries that show signs of mold or degradation, and if you do accidentally eat a berry with SWD, it won’t hurt you.

“Think of it as extra protein!” Kraght joked.

Blackberries have natural antimicrobial properties to help ward off harmful germs, so I say if the sugar doesn’t kill you, the worms (protein) make you stronger!

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