You Are What You Eat: Blueberries


Blueberries are small blue/purple fruits that are juicy and slightly sweet, belonging to the genus Vaccinium, they are acid-loving plants and  a fruit that’s closely related to several other berries including cranberries, bilberries and huckleberries. There are several different types of blueberries, but the two most common varieties are highbush and lowbush blueberries, around 5 to 16mm in diameter.

They are native to the Eastern US seaboard but are now commercially grown world-wide. They are a juicy fruit with tiny seeds and a colourless juice, they have no stalk so there is no waste. The dusty coating on a blueberry is referred to as “Bloom” and acts as a natural shield towards insects – it also keeps the blueberry fresher for longer. A single blueberry plant can produce up to 6,000 blueberries every year!

For centuries, blueberries were gathered from the forests and the bogs by Native Americans and consumed fresh and also preserved. The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; the elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent “star berries” to relieve the children’s hunger during a famine. 

Interestingly, blueberries are the only food that is truly naturally blue in colour. This blue pigmentation is also the reason blueberries have amazing health benefits.

The most popular varieties grown in Ireland are Bluecrop, Duke, Draper and Brigitta.

Blueberry Season in Ireland

Traditionally in Ireland, blueberries  were planted on some old cutover bogs, where the acidity was ideal for the crop. Recently, blueberries have been planted on more traditional soils. The acidity  (pH)  of  the  soil can be ameliorated and managed over time to suit the crop. Typically, the Irish Blueberry season is live in July and August.

Blueberry production can be very beneficial in Ireland, as they can be grown for local supply in almost any part of the country, customers have a preference for locally grown products and it provides local employment and is very environmentally sustainable. 

Derryvilla Blueberry Farm in Co Offaly has been growing blueberries since 1965. Now owned by John Seager and his wife, Belinda, it is the largest blueberry farm in Ireland with a 20-acre operation just outside Portarlington. The high bush blueberry that they grow on their pesticide-free farm is the commercial cousin of the native Irish fraughan or, as they’re called around here, the hurt. Like the Irish variety, the bush blueberry is an acid-loving shrub which thrives on the area’s cut-away bog, although fortunately its fruit is much larger and easier to pick than the tiny fraughan.

Culinary Uses

  • Blueberries can be eaten raw but they can also be stewed or baked in cakes, tarts, pies and used in a wide variety of sweet and savoury dishes. They may change colour when cooked. Acids such as lemon juice and vinegar, cause their blue pigment to turn reddish. They also contain a yellow pigment which in an alkaline environment, such as mixing with too much baking soda, may give rise to greenish-blue berries.
  • To reduce the amount of colour streaking in cakes or muffins, lightly dust blueberries with flour and add at the last minute. For pancakes or waffles, add the dusted blueberries when the batter is being poured on to the pan or griddle to be cooked.
  • When buying fresh blueberries look for ones that are firm, dry, plump, smooth-skinned and relatively free from leaves and stems. Ripe berries are deep purple-blue to blue-black. Avoid soft watery fruit or dehydrated wrinkled berries. Store fresh blueberries in the fridge and wash the amount you need (in potable water) just before use.
  • At breakfast time you can serve blueberry pancakes, or bake them into French toast. They can be added to breakfast cereals such as muesli or can be made into breakfast bars, scones and muffins. Blend them with a banana, mixed fruits, chia seeds and yoghurt to make a smoothie.

Nutritional Value

Blueberries are actually one of the first foods to have been given ‘superfood’ status. Blueberries contain antioxidants which have disease-fighting properties that protect cells from damage and are also high in potassium and vitamin C. Not only do they lower the risk of heart disease, improve memory research has also shown that by eating blueberries you can help prevent cancer.

Blueberries contain 50% more antioxidants than strawberries, 100% more than oranges and 400% more than broccoli! In addition to this, blueberries are recognised as being a good source of Vitamin C and manganese. Vitamin C is necessary for immune support and normal collagen formation. Meanwhile, manganese helps the body process cholesterol and nutrients, such as carbohydrates and protein. Blueberries are also a good source of dietary fibre.

A portion of blueberries is about a 80g handful. Here are the key nutritional values for 100g of blueberries: 

Energy 57kcal, Water 85%, Protein  0.7g, Carbs 14.5g, Sugar 10g, Fibre 2.4g, Fat 0.3g

Blueberries may be small in size, but they can deliver so many health benefits, ranging from blood sugar control and improved heart health, to keeping your digestive system functioning and protecting the body against oxidative stress and damage.

Fraughan Sunday

Fraughan Sunday refers to a tradition in Ireland where people pick wild blueberries, known as “fraughans,” on Sundays during the summer months, often using them to make jams, pies, or other treats. Blueberries are bigger cousins of the native Irish bilberry or fraughan and thrive in similar peaty habitats. 

The last Sunday in July marks the tradition of hiking into the heathery hills to pick delicious wild fraughan berries that are in season at this time. Known as Fraughan Sunday, or also Garland Sunday, it is no coincidence that the two traditions are associated with this time of year. In fact, they are deeply connected: Lughnasa heralding the upcoming harvest, and the fraughan being the fruit that is now ripe. Indeed, a good crop of fraughans is seen as a harbinger of a good harvest to come.

Not to be confused with its better known cousin, the blueberry, the fraughan berry is smaller, sweeter, and a darker purple colour. And if you succumb to the temptation to taste while you pick, the purple stain is strong, unavoidable and not easily washed away:

Traditionally the gathering of the berries was carried out by young people  who would climb up into the hills and have a good time picking the berries. In the evening young girls would incorporate the berries into a cake and at the dance that evening present the cake to whatever ‘fella’ they had their eye on.


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