Aronia Berries: The new antioxidant super fruit

AroniaberriesMove over, Acai berries and mangosteen. There's a less expensive, easier-to-eat antioxidant in town, and it's a superfood that Native Americans have known about for generations: Aronia berries.

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"It's got kind of an astringent taste to it. It's very naturally tart," Tammy Ross, director of marketing for Westin Foods, told to Yahoo! Shine in an interview. Westin Foods owns Mae's Health & Wellness, producers of the Superberries line of aronia berry products. "It's very similar in taste to a wine grape. What you're tasting in that tartness is actually very good for you -- a type of an antioxidant and type of a compound that can be found in wine and can also be found in tea."

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Aronia berries contains a natural blend of polyphenolic antioxidants that combat the cell-damaging free radicals created in our bodies by stress, environmental pollution, medical x-rays, and other aspects of daily living (even exercise!). Among those antioxidants are anthocyanins, which have been shown to help fight diseases caused by oxidative stress like certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and liver function, according to studies published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and elsewhere. According to the USDA, Aronia berries have twice as much antioxidant power as cranberries and four times as much as pomegranates, strawberries, goji berries, and blueberries. (They're difficult to compare to chia seeds, another popular antioxidant, because chia seeds aren't fruits)

Also called chokeberries thanks to their super-tart taste, the dark-purple clusters grow wild in North America and have recently been cultivated by farmers in the Midwest. The distinctive berries grow on bushes, with several round fruit clumped together on rosy-red stems.

Unlike trendy acai berries, which are usually found mixed into other products or in powdered supplement form, aronia berries are available as whole fruit -- you can find them online at Amazon.com (about $10 per pound) where they cost far less per serving than dried goji berries (about $18 per pound) and dried wild blueberries (about $48 per pound). Native Americans used them as part of their diet, as preservatives for their meat, and also for dying cloth, Ross explained. And it's become popular in Europe, where they're now prized for their health and wellness properties.

Aronia berries aren't a dietary supplement, though -- they're a food. Like elderberries or black currants, aronia berries can be used to make wine, jam, syrups, and tea; you can stir them into fresh sauces or use them along with blueberries in your breakfast muffins (you can find more recipes here.)

Aronia Berry Salsa
12 servings

1 medium red onion

1 14-ounce can whole corn

1 14-ounce can black beans

1 1/2 cups frozen aronia berries (available at Superberries.com)

4 cups Roma tomatoes, chopped

3 jalapenos, seeded chopped

4 limes

1 teaspoon salt

Finely chop the onion and place in a small glass bowl. Sprinkle with salt and squeeze the juice of one lime over the top. Mix well and set aside.

Drain the corn and the black beans, and combine them in a large mixing bowl. Wash the frozen aronia berries and add them to the corn and black beans. Add the chopped tomatoes and the seeded and chopped jalapenos. Mix well.

Squeeze the juice from the remaining limes onto the tomato mixture and stir to combine. Add the chopped onions and stir again. Let chill for an hour before serving with tortilla chips.

Given the popularity of the organic food and whole food movements, and our culture's dedication to warding off the aging process, the renewed interest in aronia berries is perfectly timed.

"I think generally speaking over the last five years or so our culture has become more and more educated about nutrition," wellness expert Brett Blumenthal, author of 52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You told Yahoo! Shine. "We understand that antioxidants help fight off the free radicals that are all over. They're in the air we breathe, they're in the food we eat, and we really can't avoid them."

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