What are superfruits?
A quick glance down the aisles of your local grocery or health food store will reveal a wide variety of products that claim to contain “superfoods” or “superfruits,” and for those looking for a quick health fix, these foods might seem to be just what the doctor ordered. However, because the terms superfood and superfruit don’t have a strict scientific or regulatory definition, the claims that foods containing these types of ingredients are healthier than other food choices is pretty nebulous, and probably owes more to marketing efforts than actual nutritional data.
Generally, superfruits are said to contain more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients than most other fruits, and by including them in our diet, our bodies may benefit from the added nutrition (especially if the rest of our diet is rather deficient in those nutrients).
Every year, the food industry seems to adopt another superfruit or superfood as the next best thing for human nutrition, with most of them being sourced from exotic locations or a unique or unusual plant, but the jury’s still out on whether or not some (or any) of the novel superfruits actually bestow any extra health benefits to those who eat them. Having said that, it is fairly common knowledge that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables everyday is one key to adequate nutrition and health, and including some so-called superfruits in our diets is right in line with that.
But superfruits don’t have to come from an exotic location on the other side of the world, as some of them can easily be grown in a garden or greenhouse, thereby avoiding the costly markups and big transportation footprint that many superfoods have.
credit: Brendan DeBrincat
Blueberries, which aren’t exactly considered to be exotic here in the US (they’re said to be the second most popular berry in the country), were one of the first fruits to be referred to as superfruits, due in part to their diverseĀ phytonutrients, anthocyanins, and polyphenols.
Blueberries grow as a perennial shrub (either in the ‘wild’ lowbush form, or the cultivated highbush form) across a wide range of habitats, and while the commercially available blueberry varieties found in most grocery stores may not always thrive in your location, there are plenty of cultivars that are suited to different climates. Three years of growth might be necessary before the bushes are mature enough to yield significant amounts of fruit.
credit: Luke Jones
Raspberries are another very common superfruit, and because of their extremely fragile nature, are almost always best right off the canes and not in a package from the grocery store. Raspberries can be grown in most temperate regions, in both red and black varieties, and are purported to be rich in anthocyanin pigments, flavanoids, vitamin C, and fiber.
Raspberries grow on upright canes, which can be quite vigorous in some areas, invading nearby soil with their abundance of suckers (basal shoots). The suckers can be dug up for transplanting, and canes can be cut for rooting, so propagating raspberries from your favorite bushes is fairly straightforward. There are two main types of raspberry plants, the everbearing (just as it sounds, they bear fruit throughout the season, on both first year growth and last year’s canes), and the summer bearing varieties (bear fruit only on last year’s canes), with multiple cultivars available for each type.
credit: deedavee ecobuilder
Superfruits: Goji Berries
Goji berries, or wolfberries, are a recently popular superfruit grown commercially mainly in China, but which can be grown elsewhere as well. Goji berries come from a woody perennial plant in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), and the small red to orange berries are said to be powerhouses of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other nutrients, including 18 amino acids.
There are two main varieties of Goji berry plants, Lycium chinense (a shorter variety from the south of China), and Lycium barbarum (from the north of China, and tending to be taller), both of which yield a similar fruit. It may take up to three years of growth after planting to get fruit on the plants, although earlier small yields are possible. Goji can also be grown as a container plant, but will remain smaller and have smaller yields.
credit: Michael Coghlan
Pomegranates are one of those foods that people love to hate. Well, at least they hate to peel one,unless they know the trick to keep it from taking up their whole morning.
Pomegranates grow on small deciduous trees or shrubs, said to originate from Persia, but which can also be cultivated across a wide range of climates. Pomegranates, a sweet-tart fruit, are considered to be a superfruit due to their abundance of vitamin C, vitamin K, polyphenol, anthocyanins, and other nutrients, which may be reduced in processed pomegranate products (another reason to grow your own).
credit: Jami Dwyer
Blackberries, one of the most richly colored foods, are another common superfruit, and being fairly simple to grow, can be a great addition to a home garden. The upright thorn-covered canes, or brambles, of blackberries are biennial, so they only grow vegetation the first year, and then produce flowers and bear fruit the second year.
A variety of blackberry cultivars are available for purchase from nurseries, and can also be propagated by cuttings or transplanting suckers from either wild or cultivated brambles. Because they grow in a similar fashion as raspberries (and look similar in shape), and the berries only darken as they ripen, the homespun saying “blackberries are red when they’re green” can help determine which type of plant they are when you’re looking for a source for cuttings or suckers.
Aronia is a fruit that’s been getting a fair amount of attention recently as a superfruit, but most of us have probably never heard of it before. Perhaps that’s because calling it by its more common name, the chokeberry, doesn’t make it sound very palatable. Chokeberries are sometimes confused with a similar fruit, chokecherries (which are another wild and somewhat astringent food), and are often grown as an ornamental, not a food plant.
Aronia, with its deep purple coloring, is said to be rich in anthocyanins and other phytochemicals, and the fruits can be eaten raw, although are often added to other foods, due to their astringent nature.
credit: Jyrki Kyminen
Unless you’ve got Scandinavian roots or live in the North, lingonberries (also known as cowberries) might not be a common food item, but these little berries (a relative of cranberries) are another superfruit that may be worth cultivating at home.
The short evergreen shrubs of the lingonberry, which spread via runners (which can be transplanted), are well suited to northern climates, but may also be grown in more southern regions with some sun and heat protection. The tart berries are said to be high in polyphenols, vitamin C, beta-carotene, flavanoids, minerals, and other nutrients.