This seasonal staple typically makes a (saucy) appearance at the Thanksgiving feast and is often featured in playfully tart-but-sweet baked goods as the air gets brisk. But cranberries have culinary potential beyond the familiar jammy condiment and warming pie filling. In fact, this underrated member of the berry family boasts an impressive list of health benefits, especially when consumed fresh. So, can you eat raw cranberries? Yes, you most certainly can...and doing so will do your body good. The catch is that fresh, raw cranberries—even in peak season—are not quite as palate-pleasing as, say, a handful of ripe blueberries. Don’t write them off, though: These oddball berries might be more sour than sweet, but they’re seriously good for you. Here’s the scoop on how to eat ‘em fresh.
Can You Eat Raw Cranberries?
Yep, you can and should eat raw cranberries. But before you bring home a plastic bag from the store with the intention of popping ‘em like candy, take note: You might not enjoy eating raw cranberries—at least not on their own. An unpleasantly sour or even bitter flavor profile is an attribute of unripe or off-season berries of any kind, but cranberries are different in that they always taste that way. Of course, taste preferences are very subjective, so far be it from us to discourage you from eating cranberries out of hand—just be aware that raw cranberries are known to be bitingly acerbic (i.e., tart and bitter).
The unique flavor characteristics of cranberries explain why it’s far easier to find them dried and canned than fresh. In fact, our friends at the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center tell us that only 5 percent of cranberries harvested make it to the market unadulterated and raw while the remaining 95 percent end up processed in some fashion, and almost always sweetened. That said, fresh cranberries are fairly easy to find, especially during the short-lived harvest season, which begins in September and extends through November in the United States.
Health Benefits of Fresh Cranberries
This humble berry might not have reached influencer status on the food pyramid, but it packs a punch—and we’re not just talking about its sour taste. According to FoodRevolution.org, cranberries are rich in antioxidants and contain compounds that boast anti-inflammatory and “bacteria-blocking benefits.” As such, regular consumption of raw cranberries is thought to promote urinary tract health as well as immune and digestive system health, while potentially reducing the risk of cancer, ulcers, and degenerative diseases that stem from cell damage. Of course, eating a boatload of raw cranberries doesn’t promise a clean bill of health but suffice it to say, cranberries have a good rapport with the human body.
How to Use Raw Cranberries
By all means, you should still whip up (or purchase) a delicious cranberry sauce this holiday season—just know that eating cranberry in that form will not fulfill your New Year’s Resolution a month in advance. So how do you use cranberries to maximize the health benefits? Well, that’s actually pretty easy. Wash and thinly chop a few fresh, raw cranberries as a garnish for a salad or a stir-in for your morning oatmeal. This use of the unsweetened, raw cranberry highlights its unique flavor profile without it becoming overkill. You can also use fresh cranberries to make chutneys, salsas, and relish (try this deliciously spicy and complex cranberry and jalapeno relish, courtesy of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association). Or why not try these sweet potato crostini topped with cranberries and almonds? Finally, if you’re feeling the holiday spirit(s) but want to offset the effects, just pop a couple of fresh cranberries in your hot toddy and call it a night. Just don’t forget to actually eat the cocktail garnish.