Aronia - A Hardy Superfruit

Aronia - A Hardy Superfruit

Part of Ep. 1803 Sustainable Gardens

Aronia has long been used as an ornamental shrub in the landscape.  Now it turns out to be highly edible, tasty and nutritious.  We visit Carandale Farm in Oregon where Dale Secher is doing research on a number of non-traditional fruits.  Aronia is one of the winners.

Premiere date: May 26, 2010

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:
Carandale Farm in Oregon is famous during strawberry season. But they also grow a variety of other crops including experimental fruit crops. I'm with Dale Secher one of the owners of Carandale Farm. You folks are into some experimental fruit that I think is just very exciting. Tell me a little bit about what you're doing.

Dale Secher:
We have an experimental plot here for deciduous fruit crops. We are looking at things that are not normally in the grocery store. We're looking to find things that have high nutritional value, are environmentally sustainable to grow, and are able to do it on a smaller scale but yet a larger scale in direct marketing, so that we can distribute income and more people can be involved in the food system.

Shelley:
So think local, sustainability and things that maybe even a homeowner can do.

Dale:
Absolutely, many of these things will fit very nicely with what homeowners can do.  

Shelley:
Tell me about some of these a few of the unusual things that are going on here.

Dale:
We have over 40 different things that we're looking at that aren't normally grown. Some of them you're familiar with, but are not in the marketplace at this point in time. Some you're probably never heard of. But three that we're looking at, we have a lot, but black currant is one that we think has a lot of potential. Seaberry is another one that has a lot of potential. We're standing in front of aronia today. That has got tremendous potential, because it meets all three criteria of sustainability. It's very easy to grow, very nutritional in value and is something that we can do local marketing with.  

Shelley:
And they're very pretty. That's how this started out as a landscape, ornamental shrub, right?

Dale:
Absolutely, in this country, anyway, it's been in the system for a long time. But they've been looking at it as a landscape plant and a wildlife plant. Something that the birds will eat later on in the season. So most of the plants that were selected have been selected for appearance not particularly for fruitfulness. But any of the fruit can be eaten.

Shelley:
And you said nutritional value. These berries have nutritional value for us to eat. Tell me about that.

Dale:
The reason we haven't discovered it, is because they're high in tannin which, is one of the nutrients, actually. So for fresh eating, they're not real palatable. Some people like them. They're very high in antioxidant content. And as we all know that's one of the big nutritional things now. Three times, or so, roughly, than blueberries. So the value is tremendous. It also contains the same compounds that cranberries do in terms of other benefits, as well.

Shelley:
Okay, so think about them like a cranberry. It's not something we'd eat fresh, with the tannins. We might be processing this.

Dale:
For the most part, we'd process them, absolutely.

Shelley:
How would we grow something like this as a homeowner?

Dale:
If you can grow a shrub of any sort, you can grow this. It's very easy to grow, that's one of the advantages. It's one of the first things to look at, because anybody can grow it with a little reasonable care and knowledge of growing.

Shelley:
So, spring or fall planting.

Dale:
You can actually plant it in either spring or fall. A big thing to be concerned about is weed control. Get them established. They virtually appear to be immune, or tolerant to insect and disease issues. So they can be grown organically, if you want to. I call it sustainable.

Shelley:
And what about soil, what kind of soil do you have here?  

Dale:
That's another nice thing. Cranberries have to have very specialized soil, whereas these can be grown virtually anywhere. A wide range of pH soils, and moisture conditions virtually anywhere. They're very hardy, hardy to minus 40 degrees, so you can grow them anywhere in the state of Wisconsin.

Shelley:
Wow, okay. And these are about six years old. Is this considered a typical fall crop? That's late summer fall, when the berries are ripe?

Dale:
Right, the berries will look like they're ripe probably at the beginning or first week of August. But the longer they sit, the more nutritional they become, the more the antioxidants are expressed. We usually harvest around the first of September in this area.

Shelley:
So once they color up, try to be patient and wait another four weeks, if you can.

Dale:
They'll gain even more intense color after they set for a while.

Shelley:
And here's one where the berry has shriveled. Is that a good sign?

Dale:
That's a sign that you probably left them a little bit too long, although you'll get that occasionally. But yeah, once you start noticing shriveling they should be harvested. They have a long harvest period so you could leave them on into October but you'd be better off to get them off.

Shelley:So, do you have any particular cultivars that are better for eating than for ornamental purposes?

Dale:
Actually, there are a lot of cultivars available, but the ones specifically selected for eating, and that's just because of productivity uniformity, and so forth, would be Nero and Viking. Viking is larger. That's what we're standing in front of now.

Shelley:
Okay, so most of these are available online. We'll have more information on our Web site about this, too.

Dale:
Absolutely, you can get those in most any catalog.

Shelley:
Okay, well, now you've got me curious. How do I eat these? What do you recommend? What are you some of your favorite ways to eat aronia?

Dale:
Well, the most popular way is to juice them out. It gives a very high, dense, nutritional value of the juice. Blend it with yogurt. It makes a wonderful smoothie or just a yogurt drink. You can make homemade ice cream, a great way to do it. You can just drink the plain juice. It can be a little intense. Cut it with a little 7-Up or something.

Shelley:
Or a little sugar.

Dale:
A little sugar. It can be eaten as a fresh fruit, as a whole fruit by chopping it up and blending it. It can be made in pastries, a lot of products. My wife makes pinwheel cookies out of it.

Shelley:
Oh, yum.

Dale:
Aronia bread is beautiful, it's just dark, very pretty.

Shelley:
Okay, you've got my interest piqued. I think I'm going to have to plant some of these. Thank you so much, Dale.

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