Blueberries

Plant Description:
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Highbush Blueberries

Blueberries are flowering plants from the genus Vaccinium L. The most common fruit of this genus, which is described as the common term “blueberries”, has dark-blue berries, is a perennial and is mainly native to North America. There are 45 species within this genus, which has a global distribution with species in North America, Europe and Asia. Vaccinium L. also includes cranberries, huckleberries, lingonberries and bilberries. [1]

The blueberry family includes the Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) and the Native American "wild" low bush (Vaccinium angustifolium Aiton). All blueberries originated from the wilds. Smaller species are known as "lowbush blueberries" (synonymous with "wild"); and the larger species are known as "highbush blueberries", usually found in commercial production. Highbush blueberries represent 57%of total North American blueberry production. [2]
Highbush Blueberries: The species Vaccinium corymbosum L. is the most commonly cultivated form of blueberries and the type we see most often in the grocery store. This species can grow as high as 12 feet in height in its native (uncultivated) state but when cultivated usually stays within a range of 4-7 feet. Highbush blueberries are also most likely available for purchase at local garden stores and plant nurseries. Cultivated highbush blueberries have often been hybridized to produce larger size berries, which U.S. consumers prefer. [3] Branches are yellow-green (reddish in winter) and covered with small wart-like dots. Leaves are deciduous, alternate, simple, elliptic or ovate, 1 to 3½ inches long and slightly waxy above with pubescence (hairs) at least on the veins beneath. The white or pink-tinged flowers are small and urn-shaped with 5 petals, and occur 8 to 10 per cluster. Flowering occurs February to June, sporadically in the southern portion of its range; fruiting occurs April to October, about 62 days after flowering. Fruits are ¼ - ½” blue-black berries with many seeds. [4]
Lowbush Blueberries: These species are commonly referred to as "wild blueberries." In their native state, they typically grow less than 2 feet in height and often stay even lower, at 8-12 inches from the ground. Lowbush species produce berries of a smaller size than highbush and even though they can be found growing wild in many parts of the U.S. are not commonly found in supermarkets.[3]

Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) Classification:

Ericaceae Family: Vaccinium corymbosum L. is a dicotyledon that is part of the Heath (Ericaceae) family. The Ericaceae family comprises about 125 genera and 3,500 species. This relatively large family of flowering plants includes rhododendrons, azaleas, blueberries, heathers, and wintergreens. The flowers in the family range from showy and insect pollinated to wind pollinated and brownish in color. Most of the species have woody stems, and flowers with 4 or 5 petals forming a tube or a trumpet. Ericaceae are mostly sun-loving plants that grow in acid soils. Shrubs and trees are the most common growth form in the family. [5]

Vaccinium corymbosum L. Classification:
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Source: www.usda.plants.gov

Highbush Blueberry Distribution:

Widespread in eastern North America, the highbush blueberry has been introduced outside of its natural range for commercial berry production. The highbush blueberry is extensively cultivated in New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina, Washington and to lesser extent in Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, British Coumbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. [4]
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Source: www.plants.usda.gov


Highbush Blueberry Flower Development:

Vaccinium corymbosum L. has perfect flowers with a superior ovary. Each bell-shaped flower has 5 petals and is found in raceme-like clusters.
The bell-shaped highbush flowers are white, pale pink and sometimes tinged greenish. [6]

Top Row: From left to right, we are looking at 1) dormant buds, 2) buds becoming swollen, 3) buds pop open and we can see the flowers in between the bud scales,
4) individual flowers are finally distinguishable.


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Source: Michigan State University
Bottom Row: Indicates the development of buds from a rich early pink toward a lighter pink, eventually opening into full bloom. Once the flower petals fall off, the beginnings of small green fruit are seen at the site of each flower in the last picture.
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Source: Michigan State University

Highbush Blueberry Fruit Development:

The fruit is a berry 5-16 millimeters in diameter with a flared crown at the end. They are pale greenish first, then reddish-purple and finally dark blue when ripe. The fruit has a sweet taste when mature. Highbush blueberries bear fruit in the middle of the growing season; and according to different latitudes, the peak of the crop can vary from May to August. [6]
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Source: Michigan State University

Blueberry Nutrition:

In recent years, blueberries have received national attention for their nutritional value. The media has begun to refer to blueberries as a "super food" and the benefits of the nutritional value of blueberries are being recognized by health groups, such as the American Cancer Society, which placed the blueberry at the top of its list of foods beneficial in the prevention of the risks of cancer. [7]
The USDA publishes a National Nutrition Database for all food products. The Nutrition content of one cup of raw blueberries can be found at the following link: USDA Nutritional Data Search, which has also been translated into Blueberries' Minimum Daily Adult Requirements in the picture at the right.
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Source: USDA National Nutrition Database

Antioxidants: The USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston has developed an assay called ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), which qualifies the antioxidant capacity of foods. Fresh blueberries have a high level of ORAC, 2400 per 100 grams. (As a comparison, five servings of some fruits and vegetables in a typical American diet score around 1600.) In a USDA laboratory at Tuft's University in Boston, researchers have found that blueberries rank #1 in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 common fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful by-products called "free radicals" that can lead to cancer and other age-related diseases. These molecules battle cell and DNA damage involved in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and perhaps brain degeneration. Anthocyanin (the pigment that makes blueberries blue) is thought to be responsible for this major health benefit. [8]
Phytochemicals: Phytochemicals are associated with the prevention and/or treatment of at least four of the leading causes of death in Western countries - cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. They are involved in many processes including ones that help prevent cell damage, prevent cancer cell replication, and decrease cholesterol levels.
Anthocyanins are the colorful antioxidant pigments that give many foods their wonderful shades of blue, purple, and red; and are usually the first phytonutrients to be mentioned in descriptions of blueberries and their amazing health-supportive properties. There are actually a wide variety of health support phytonutrients found in blueberries. [9]
Vitamin C: In just one cup of blueberries, there are 14 mg of Vitamin C, almost 25% of the minimum adult daily requirement. Vitamin C aids the formation of collagen and helps maintain healthy gums and capillaries. It also promotes Iron absorbtion and a healthy immune system. (1) Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that both prevents cell damage and repairs damaged cells. Vitamin C also promotes immune system function and helps to prevent inflammation. [10]
Flavonoids: Blueberries are also an excellent source of flavonoids. One flavonoid found in blueberries is carotenoid. This substance helps promote vision health by preventing macular degeneration. [11]
Ellagic acid: Blueberries contain ellagic acid, an antioxidant that helps to prevent cancer. This substance is an antioxidant that has been found to help prevent cancer. Ellagic acid is also known as an antiviral and antibacterial substance. [11]
Fiber Content: Blueberries are a rich source of dietary fiber. Fiber helps to maintain digestive health, helps to control blood sugar, aids in weight loss, and helps lower cholesterol levels. [11]
Manganese Content: Blueberries contain manganese, an important enzyme activator in the body. This mineral is an enzyme activator in the body that aids in the synthesis of biotin, thiamine, vitamin C and choline. It also helps in the metabolism of carbohydrates and protein. [11]

Conventional vs. Organic Blueberries:

Conventional: While blueberries are an essential part of a healthy diet, some conventional varieties contain pesticide residues. Not all the pesticides used to kill bugs, grubs, or fungus on the farm washes off under the tap at home. USDA tests show which fruits and vegetables, prepared typically at home, still have a pesticide residue. Blueberries made the USDA "dirty dozen list" in 2010, since more than 50 pesticides have been detected as residue on them.
At the "What’s On My Food" website, you can look up the pesticides tested in the USDA Pesticide Data Program. The results for conventional blueberries
show that there are 8 known or probable carcinogens; 24 suspected hormone disruptors, 14 Neurotoxins and 7 developmental or reproductive disruptors. The remaining 21 are bee toxins, those pesticides which can be anywhere from "mildly" to "chronically" toxic to honeybees. The details can be found here: What's On My Blueberries?
However, unlike conventional apples, bananas, strawberries and other popular fruits, in which most pesticides show up over 50% of the time (some instances as high as 80%), conventional blueberries have a much lower incidence of these pesticides, with only two pesticides occurring approximately 30% of the time; and the remainder occurring less than 20% (many under 5%). In fact, of the two "known" carcinogens in blueberries, iprodione and captan, these occur in less than 20% of the conventional blueberries tested.
Organic:The USDA’s Genetic Improvement of Fruit and Vegetable Laboratory and Rutgers University tested organic blueberries and found that that blueberries grown organically had a significantly higher sugar content (fructose and glucose), malic acid, total phenolics, total anthocyanins, and antioxidant activity (ORAC) than fruit grown conventionally. The organic blueberries contained about 50 percent higher levels of total anthocyanins, the natural plant phytochemicals that give blueberries their dark color. They also had 67 percent more total phenolics. The organic production system produced fruit with higher contents of myricetin 3-arabinoside, quercetin 3-glucoside, delphinidin 3-galactoside, delphinidin 3-glucoside, delphinidin 3-arabinoside, petunidin 3-galactoside, petunidin 3-glucoside, and malvidin 3-arabinoside than the conventional system.
Organic blueberries also had higher levels of malic acid, total phenolics, total anthocyanins, and antioxidant activity (ORAC) than fruit grown conventionally. The organic blueberries contained about 50 percent higher levels of total anthocyanins, the natural plant phytochemicals that give blueberries their dark color. [12]
It's not that easy to grow organic blueberries, however. It's not so easy to keep the pests and fungus away organically; and it's extremely labor intensive, making organic blueberries very expensive to produce. This New York Times Article outlines how organic blueberries don't come easily. Organic Blueberries Don't Come Easily
The Choice: So, what is a consumer to do? Buy organic if you can afford it; not just for the lack of pesticides but for the higher content of antioxidant benefits. This applies to not only fresh blueberries, but also to processed food products with organic blueberries in them as well. If one can't afford the higher price for organic, however, comfort can be found in the fact that conventional blueberries do not have as high an incidence of pesticides as other commonly eaten conventional fruits.

Ethnobotany:

As one of the few fruits native to North America, blueberries have been enjoyed by Native Americans for centuries. Native Americans dried blueberries and used them in breads, porridges and cooked mixtures of fruit and cornmeal. The Northeast Native American tribes revered blueberries and much folklore developed around them. The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; and so, the elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent "star berries" to relieve the children's hunger during a famine. Parts of the blueberry plant were also used as medicine. A tea made from the leaves of the plant was thought to be good for the blood. Blueberry juice was used to treat coughs. The juice also made an excellent dye for baskets and cloth. In food preparation, dried blueberries were added to stews, soups and meats. The dried berries were also crushed into a powder and Blueberries.png into meat for flavor. Blueberries were also used for medicinal purposes along with the leaves and roots. [13]
Americans’ use of blueberries dates back to colonial times. Early New England colonists learned from the Native Americans to use blueberries in similar ways. Blueberries were used in gruel and were boiled and baked in puddings. They were also combined with flour, milk and possibly eggs to be served in traditional English puddings. When combined with cornmeal, it was known as Fruit Puddings. By the 1800s, Blueberries were being used in blueberry pies, flavored with a “good quantity of brown sugar, with very little spice or seasoning” (Sumner, 125). [14]

A current trend in history of blueberries has been their dramatically increased consumption within the U.S. due to blueberries' high nutritional and antioxidant values. In 1997, the average U.S. adult consumed about 13 ounces of blueberries per year. Ten years later, in 2008, that amount nearly doubled and reached an average level of 22 ounces. This increasing consumption of blueberries within the U.S. has led to cultivation of blueberries on almost 100,000 acres of land in the U.S., and has moved blueberries to second place as the most commonly eaten berry in the U.S. (second only to strawberry). [8]
Today, blueberries are eaten raw, are canned in either light or heavy syrup, and are frozen either sweetened or unsweetened. Blueberries are used in baking pies and cakes. Blueberries are mixed into the ingredients of hundreds of commercial food products such as cereals, granola, health bars, yogurt and other dairy products, jams, juices and other beverages, cakes, muffins and other baked goods. As a result, the marketing of blueberries and blueberry products is a big business in the United States.

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Highbush Blueberry Council logo

Marketing Blueberries and Blueberry Products:

The marketing of blueberries is a big business in the United States. There are many marketing organizations and councils that focus on helping blueberry growers, producers and manufacturers to market their products and grow their markets.
One notable organization is The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, which can be reached at www.blueberry.org. The following marketing data is available directly at this site.

Blueberry Marketing Situation:
In the past ten years, the blueberry industry has experienced extraordinary growth with per capita consumption rising each year and a record numbers of new products entering the market each month. Consumers have become enlightened to the health benefits of blueberries and the past four years have seen the largest crops and record demand. The industry has kept pace with demand and processed blueberries (frozen, liquid, dried etc.) are in plentiful supply. About half of all blueberries produced go to the "fresh market" sector. The remaining blueberries go to food processing. [15]
A few decades ago, highbush blueberries went mainly to the fresh market and pie fillings. Today, blueberries are utilized in hundreds of food industry applications in North America and the world. In 2010, more than 1400 new blueberry containing products were introduced in the USA.

Current trends are:
  • Health Interest Continues to Drive Blueberry Demand
  • Blueberry Interest Encourages Increased Worldwide Blueberry Production
  • North American Highbush Blueberry Acreage has increased 33% from 71,000 acres to almost 100,000 acres in three years.
  • Worldwide acreage has doubled to over 163,000 acres over the past 5 years.


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Source: High Bush Blueberry Council

Market Opportunities: [15]Picture_76.png
  • Blueberry “Health Halo” Remains a Purchase Driver
  • Blueberry Per Capita Consumption has room to grow due to continued interest in the health value of blueberry
  • Underdeveloped Domestic and International Markets will help grow blueberry demand
  • Blueberries Continue as Key Ingredient in New Product Development

New Product Development: Helping Blueberry Consumption Grow: [15]
  • Over 1,400 New Blueberry Products are introduced in North America annually
  • Top Categories: Non-Alcoholic Beverages, Dairy Products, Baked Goods
  • Future Opportunity to Expand Blueberry Use Beyond Traditional Applications to Cosmetics and Pet Foods

New Blueberry Products Introduced in the Past 12 Months: [16]
The following are a selection of the over 1400 blueberry products introduced in North America in the past 12 Months:

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Source: Mintel Global Products Database

The Blueberry: As illustrated to the right, many new blueberry brands have
introduced blueberries in their single form or in combination with other berries.
Included in recent product introductions are "wild" blueberries, "organic" blueberries, "freeze-dried" blueberries, "mixed" berries, and "antioxidant" berries.






Blueberry Healthy Snacks:
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Source: Mintel Global Products Databse

Some new blueberry snack products introduced in the past 12 months include yogurt,
berry mix to make smoothies, blueberry smoothies and blueberry smoothies mixed with other fruits. Both the Stonyfield Farms and Ella's Kitchen products are organic.









Blueberry Beverages:
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Source: Mintel Global Products Database

Blueberry juice combinations have become very popular in recent years. There are many different types of juice products, with varying amounts of nutritional value.

The products to the right are a few of the introductions made in the past twelve months, from a "juice drink" introduced by Tropicana, which has the lowest nutritional value and a high amount of High Fructose Corn Syrup; to a high nutrition value "organic" juice with a blueberry & carrot combination. Two juices (wiithout High Fructose Corn Syrup) include the Northland Pomegranate/Blueberry Juice and Opti Bleu's Wild Blueberry Juice.

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Source: Mintel Global Products Database

The blueberry craze is moving into the world of alcohol as well. Shown to the right is Smirnoff's Blueberry & Lemonade Vodka Drink.

Also, there is a pomegranate/blueberry cultured milk product from Lifeway Foods.



Miscellaneous Product Introductions:
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Source: Mintel Global Products Database

New product introductions also occurred in Nut Butters, Cereal Bars, Organic Pancake Mixes. Even Starbucks has gotten into the blueberry craze, with their new snack, Pomegranate Blueberry Twists.






Pet Food that Contain Blueberries:
Even the pet industry is beginning to add blueberries to pet treat products.
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Source: Mintel Global Products Database

Marketing Summary:
Blueberries are becoming more and more popular each day as new research discloses their health and nutrient benefits. Food growers and producers are capitalizing on this phenomenon as per capita human consumption continues to rise. The big business of blueberries will continue to grow with the help of marketing organizations such as the US Highbush Blueberry Council.
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Source: US Highbush Blueberry Council Technical Brochure

Sources:

1. Vaccinium L. Plant Profile. USDA Plants Database. USDA Natural Conservation Resources. Vaccinium L. July 17, 2011.
2. Blueberries. US Highbush Blueberry Council. US Highbush Blueberry Council Blueberries Page July 17, 2011
3. Blueberries. WholeFoods Website. Blueberry Whole Foods July 17, 2011
4. Vaccinium corymbosum L. Plant Profile. USDA Plants Database. USDA Natural Conservation Resources. Vaccinium corymbosum L. July 17, 2011.
5. Kron, Dr. Kathleen A. “Blueberries, Heathers and Rhododendrons”. Ericaceae Homepage. Ericacaea.org. July 25, 2011.
6. Blueberry Growth Stages. Michigan State University Extension. Highbush Blueberry Growth Stages. July 19, 2011.
7. Health Benefits of Blueberries. US Highbush Blueberry Council. Health Benefits of Blueberries July 19, 2011.
8. Blueberries: The #1 Antioxidant Fruit. TrueBlue Website. The #1 Antioxidant Fruit July 19, 2011.
9. Health Benefits of Blueberries. WholeFoods Website. Blueberry Whole Foods July 19, 2011.
10. Blueberry Nutrition. US Highbush Blueberry Council. Blueberry Nutrition. July 20, 2011.
11. Berg, Susan. "The Health Benefits of Strawberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries". eHow Health. Health Benefits of Strawberries, Blueberries and Blackberries.
July 20, 2011.
12. "Antioxidant, Flavonoid Content of Organic vs. Conventional Blueberries". Scientific Findings About Organic Agriculture. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Iowa State University. Antioxident, Flavonoid Content. July 22, 2011.
13. Blueberries History. US Highbush Blueberry Council. US Highbush Blueberry Council Blueberries Page July 21, 2011
14. Sumner, Judith. American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants. Portland: Timber Press. 2004
15. Food Industry Resources. US Highbush Blueberry Council. Market Situation. July 22, 2011.
16. North America New Products Containing Blueberries. US Highbush Blueberry Council. New Blueberry Products. July 22, 2011.