Are you looking for something new to add to your list of healthy, nutritious natural foods? Here’s something you might want to take a look at -- the aronia berry.
Garden master Jim Duthie takes us to a local farm where they’re growing this unfamiliar berry, and he says it might just be the next superfood you’re looking for.
Just outside of Middleton, Idaho, there’s a small farm that grows something that most of us have probably never even seen or heard of before. It’s a little purple berry called the aronia berry, and it’s starting to get noticed more because of its health benefits.
“Aronia berries are full of antioxidants, which makes them very healthy. And delicious, too, worked up into juices, pancakes, breads, just like you would with any other berry," said Jerry Nicholson.
Jerry Nicholson and his wife, Tery, grow certified organic aronia berries on their small farm called My Father’s Farm. After a career in the high-tech industry, Jerry was looking for a retirement income. He considered growing lavender and even blueberries until a friend told him about aronia berries.
“And it really intrigued us, first of all, because of the health benefits.”
“Never heard of it before. Never tried it before.”
He did research on his own and learned that aronia berries are high in anti-oxidants, which research suggests offers important health benefits. In fact, aronia berries have the highest antioxidants of any fruits and vegetables tested by the USDA.
“Anywhere you would use a blueberry in your baking, you can use the aronia. They’re wonderful in smoothies, jellies, jams, syrup.”
Also called black chokeberries, aronias are native to the northeast U.S. and southeast Canada. They’re widely grown in parts of the Midwest and they seem to thrive right here in southwest Idaho.
“These plants are five years old.”
They’re just becoming mature, and they will continue to produce berries for up to 20 years.
“We’re expecting to get about 10,000 pounds an acre this year.”
And with four-and-a-half acres of plants, that’s almost 50,000 pounds of berries.
The plants are hardy and resistant to pests, disease and hot, dry weather.
In the spring, they’re covered with pretty white blossoms that lead to an abundance of berries.
“They start out green, then they turn red, and then this dark deep purple.”
“In the fall, they turn a deep burgundy red. So we have these nice beautiful rows of red plants.”
Which makes them a good choice for landscape shrubs, too.
Jerry has been monitoring the sugar levels of the berries, and now is the time to harvest.
“So we’re right in the sweet spot of picking now.”
Picking the berries by hand is labor intensive and costly, but with the help of this machine, harvesting the berries is made easy.
“The machine goes right out over the top of the row, and those rods on the machine just kind of rake through the bush and knock all the berries off. And then it drops down below and up through a conveyor belt and through blowers to get the leaves out, and then drops it into the plastic lugs on the side.”
But they don’t taste the best right now.
“They’re tart off the vine. Some people don’t like them. Other people do.”
They are loaded with pucker power due to the high concentration of the antioxidants, and the presence of chemicals known as tannins, which gives them a taste similar to a dry wine.
Instead, the Nicholsons like the berries best blended into juices, baked in cookies, and even made into tasty salsas and jams. And once you try it, you probably will too. And you may even find some health benefits yourself.
For more information about aronia berries, visit the website for My Father’s Farm LLC. You can also find them on Facebook marketplace under ‘aronia berries,’ and reserve a time to pick some berries yourself.