Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What do aronia berries taste like?

      Aronia berries and products made from them have a distinctive taste that is unlike any other fruit.  The taste of aronia is a complex sensation in the mouth, tongue, and throat. It is difficult to describe the taste of most fruits and berries including aronia.  Many people describe the taste of aronia berries as a pleasant, distinctive flavor.  If you like other fruits and berries, then you will probably like the taste of aronia berries.
 
Ripe aronia berries
 August 16, 2006


      It should be no surprise that opinions differ about what tastes good.  That’s because taste is strongly influenced by social, cultural, and economic factors, as well as individual preference and genetics.
  
      The taste perception of aronia berries is also influenced by the age and experience of the person doing the tasting.  For example, younger people usually perceive aronia to be too astringent.  This is a natural, healthy reflex.  Children often spit out astringent and bitter plant parts.  That helps them to avoid eating anything poisonous.  (A large number of naturally astringent and bitter compounds are known to be toxic.)  Only in the course of becoming an adult do people realize that astringency and bitterness do not always indicate foods that are dangerous to eat.  Such foods can even be tasty.  This is also the reason why children usually dislike grapefruit, Brussels sprouts, coffee, and beer but later as adults they may enjoy them.

      If you love food more than most people, you may have inherited supertaster genes.  Supertasters are people who have an unusually high number of taste buds and experiences the sense of taste with far greater intensity than most people.  About 25 percent of Americans are supertasters.  The majority (75%) of people are categorized as either tasters or non-taster. 

     For example, the degree to which you experience the astringency, bitterness, and acidity of red wines is correlated with your taster status.  Non-tasters gave significantly lower intensity ratings for the astringency, bitterness, and acidity of the red wines than do tasters and supertasters.

      When you take your first bite of a raw aronia berry picked fresh-of-the-bush, the first thing you will notice is a puckering sensation in your mouth.  This is especially true if the aronia berries are not fully ripe.  This dry mouth feeling or astringency is caused by chemicals known as tannins.  To supertasters, this sensation can be too intense.  Non-tasters (75 percent of Americans) tend to like the dry, mouth-puckering quality of dry red wines and they also like the astringency of aronia berries.  If you like dry wines, you will most likely love to eat raw aronia berries picked fresh-of-the-bush.

Tannin tastes dry and astringent and you can feel it specifically on the middle of your tongue and the front part of your mouth.  Unsweetened black tea is a great example of nearly pure tannin dissolved in water.  The drying sensation from the tea is due to tannin, the same organic compound that gives a fine dry wine, such as Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, a firm structure and long, beautiful finish.  Tannins are polyphenols.  Polyphenols tend to cling to proteins.  In our mouths, tannins find protein in saliva.  These proteins cause saliva to be slippery.  Tannins cause formerly saliva-coated mouths turn dry.  Your mouth will have a puckery feeling, a sensation that many people find pleasant in moderation.

     We don't have a taste bud for astringent, but it is an important quality of many foods.  Astringent is one of the six basic tastes which also include bitter, pungent (spiciness or hotness), salty, sour, and sweet.

     There is a lot of mis-information or misunderstandings about the taste of aronia berries.  Some say aronia berries are bitter or sour.  That is not true.  Some say aronia berries taste really bad, especially when eaten fresh.  Others compare them to what they consider to be the disagreeable taste of cranberries.  None of this is the truth.  It is correct that what tasted good to one person might be repulsive to someone else.  It is also true that under-ripe aronia berries have more tannins than fully ripe aronia berries.  However, many people like the taste of fresh, raw aronia berries.  Others do not.  

      Some vintners (wine makers) are using aronia berries to blend with grapes and other fruits to make drier wines.  Charlie Caldwell, owner of Black Squirrel Vineyard & Winery, grows grapes and aronia berries.  He describes his aronia wine as heavy with earthy tones, good tannins, and deep pigmentation.  He says that aronia berries are great for adding body, color, and tannins to a wine that needs improvement.  (From the Grape Vine, Vol. 2006, No. 4, p. 5)

      Tannins are not only found in aronia berries but in many other fruits.  This includes chokecherry, quince, unripe persimmons, unripe bananas, as well as banana skins and the stem end of raw dates, the fruit of date palms.  On my recent trip to Egypt, I learned not to eat the stem ends of raw dates.  To see some of my photos from Egypt, log into facebook, then click on or cut & paste this URL ---

Dr. Everhart eating a raw date
Egypt -- October 12, 2010

       Have you ever bitten into an American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, fruit before it was fully ripe?  If you try to eat one too soon, your mouth will pucker like crazy!  If you wait to harvest them after a frost, most of the astringency will be gone.  Aronia berries are never as astringent as unripe persimmons.  But freezing also reduces the astringency of aronia berries.

      When fully ripe, aronia berries have a sugar content as high as table grapes or sweet cherries.  They have a high acid content but are not sour when fully ripe.  The sour and sweet tastes are well balanced like well sweetened lemonade.
 
Farm Progress Show
Boone, Iowa -- August 27, 2008

       It is easy to find comments on the Internet by people who claim that aronia fruit is too bitter to eat.  This is a commonly held misconception.  In fact, experience has shown that most people like to eat aronia berries picked right off the bush.  At the aronia booth during the 2008 Farm Progress Show near Boone, Iowa, I conducted an unscientific taste test.  Almost everyone who picked and tasted an aronia berries gave it a “thumbs-up” for taste.  Only one little boy who bit into an aronia berry immediately spit it out! 


        We also got positive taste test results at the Clay County Fair, the largest county fair in Iowa.  Two young women at the Clay County Fair said, “Yum!  Yum!  We could eat these all day!”  I ask them if they drink wine and they said, “We only drink dry wine, the drier the better!”

Aronia Berry Fans
Clay County Fair, Iowa -- September 7, 2008

     So I now think it is safe to say that there will be a fresh market for raw aronia berries.  Education is the key to development of the aronia berry fresh market.  So please give aronia berries a taste test.  You will probably like them unless you are a supertaster.

      Are you are willing to try something new?  Or do you have a closed mind?  Do you prejudge things before you even try them?  If so, you may not be willing to try aronia berries.

      Barbara Damrosch, in a recent article about aronia in The Washington Post, wrote, “I might even eat one of their fruits — when it’s the last berry on Earth.”  As aronia gains popularity, I hope she doesn’t choke when she eat her own words.

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      Please recommend this website http://aroniainamerica.blogspot.com/ to a friend, family member, or anyone who might be interested in aronia.
 

      Please post a comment in the box below.  To learn more about aronia, visit our website Everhart Horticulture Consulting.

Thank you,
Dr. Eldon Everhart

11 comments:

  1. Very interesting. (& fun to read, too.) I might try planting aronia.

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  2. I planted two aronia bushes last year in the garden ('Viking' and 'Autumn Magic' varieties).

    I'm not too chicken to eat them!

    I have an open mind!!

    I plan on freezing the berries in the next couple of days and blending them in the VitamMix throughout the year like I do the blackcurrants (with a little sugar and water).

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    -Marie

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  3. wondering how to tell when the aronia berries are ripe? Thanks!

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    1. I recommend harvesting aronia berries when about 95 percent of the berries are dark purple. The best reason for harvesting aronia berries as early as possible is because of the potential threat of birds.

      A flock of birds can fly in and consume all or most of the berries in a day or two. I have seen that happen only once but that was enough to cause me to recommend harvesting aronia berries as early as possible. Also, birds are more apt to eat aronia berries that are sweeter.

      Allowing the fruit to develop their maximum anthocyanins (dark purple pigment) content is more important than waiting until they develop higher sugar content. The only exception might be if you intend to make wine or juice from the berries.

      Freezing the berries before processing, releases more juice. You can use either steam extraction of the juice and you can crush and press the berries like you would do with grapes or apples. Steaming aronia berries to extract the juice can yield about 2 cups of juice per pound of berries. Pressing the berries without steaming will probably not produce as much juice. But the amount will vary depending how dry or juicy the berries are at the time of processing.

      If you are going to make wine, then you will want to monitor the sugar content with a handheld refractometer. With these meters you can easily measure the brix of the aronia fruit in the field. You only need to squeeze 2 or 3 drops of juice on the meter’s plate. You will need a squirt bottle of distilled water to wash off the plate between measurements. You can purchase handheld refractometer on Amazon.
      http://www.amazon.com/home-improvement/dp/B00AILFYQ6
      http://www.amazon.com/Refractometer-RF15-Automatic-Temperature-Compensation/dp/B003H7ILCW/ref=pd_sim_sbs_hi_5
      http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Handheld+Refractometer+fruit&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3AHandheld+Refractometer+fruit

      Here is a good video about how to calibrate and use a handheld refractometer.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wm24DLhu3gs

      You can extend the shelf life of aronia berries by refrigerating them. I suspect they will last several weeks longer. If you freeze them, I know from experience that they will keep for several years!

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    2. Thanks so much!!

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  4. What should the Brix number be before picking aronia berries?

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    Replies
    1. Brix is the standard unit of measurement for sugar content of an aqueous solution such as fruit juice. Sugar content of aronia berries will increase as the berries ripen and will continue to increase even after the berries reach their maximum anthocyanins (purple pigment) content.

      The answer to the question “What should the Brix number be before picking aronia berries?” depends on the intended use of the berries.

      If the berries are to be consumed primarily for their reputed health benefits, then I recommend harvesting the berries when 95 percent of them are dark purple. If left on the bush longer the sugar content will continue to increase but the berries may begin to dry out and lose weight. If you are selling the berries by the pound or by the ton, then weight loss is not good.

      If you are primarily interested in eating the berries fresh or making wine, juice, or jelly from them, then wait until the Brix are 16 to 20 or greater. Aronia berries can be as sweet as the sweetest table grapes.

      For wine making, the optimal maturity depends on the acid level as well as the sugar content. As aronia berries ripen, sugar levels rise and acid levels fall.

      Also, the sugar content of aronia berries will vary from year to year and from one site to another. So there is no single best answer to the question, “What should the Brix number be before picking aronia berries?”

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  5. Do you have suggestions for taming the astringency in aronia?

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    1. Yvona,

      Heating, freezing, freeze-drying, sun drying, or oven drying aronia fruit will reduce the astringency. The reason for this is not thoroughly understood but is generally attributed at least in part to the dilution of the polyphenolics in the fruit and/or polymerization of the tannin.

      Eldon

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  6. Where can one purchase a couple plants of the aronia berry? What is the maximum growth height and width of the berry bush?

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    Replies
    1. Several of the ads on this blog and on our website sell aronia plants or aronia seeds. Please click on the ads to find out more or to purchase aronia plants or aronia seeds. A list of mail-order nurseries that sell aronia plants is included in the post entitled, “Aronia plants for sale.” Local nurseries in your area may also sell aronia plants.

      The maximum height of a mature aronia plant can vary from only a few feet tall to 12 feet or more with a similar width. Height and width of aronia plants depends on which cultivar you plant, your local growing conditions, and management practices. For example, ‘Viking’ aronia will grow 10 to 12 feet tall without pruning when planted in a good location with good growing conditions. ‘Professor Ed’ aronia is a dwarf cultivar and will be a much smaller plant at maturity.

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