Monday, November 26, 2012

Cranberry Verse Lingonberry: What's the Difference ?

Update July 10, 2017
UMass Amherst Food Scientists Find Cranberries May Aid the Gut Microbiome
Excerpt: "Many scientists are paying new attention to prebiotics, that is, molecules we eat but cannot digest, because some may promote the growth and health of beneficial microorganisms in our intestines, says nutritional microbiologist David Sela at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In a new study, he and colleagues report the first evidence that certain beneficial gut bacteria are able to grow when fed a carbohydrate found in cranberries and further, that they exhibit a special nontypical metabolism."
Well, North America just celebrated yet another one of their Thanksgiving celebrations in which one of the iconic must have food dishes served was Cranberry Sauce. Of course there are any number of favourite wintertime seasonal dishes for which the Cranberry is used. But over here in Northern Europe, it's the Lingonberry which is King or rather Queen, depending on how the word/term is used and under what *cough-cough* contextual circumstance it is being used. I'll let some of you Swedes have time to explain to all the foreigners reading here about Swedish women and Lingonberries. *smile*

Lingonberry or Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) 
Credit Wiki
Well as you can see, the Lingonberry is small and round, in fact much smaller than the North American Cranberry almost the size of a medium to large pea. Certainly Cranberries are bigger, but the taste of Lingonberry is sour or tart, slightly sweet - slightly bitter fruits. They are bursting with Cranberry flavour and could substitute in dishes more commonly thought of with Cranberries. Though while I've never heard of such a thing as Cranberry Jam (doesn't mean back in East USA it doesn't exist), Lingonberries are a favourite here for Jam or Preserves (or Swedish  Sylt). It's absolutely everywhere here and eaten all year long, not just during Holiday season times as the Cranberry is in the USA.

image - DishMaps
But that isn't the only favourite usage. It is often traditionally served on the side with Meat Balls and Potato mash which is also called in Swedish "Köttbullar" ( this is pronouced = 'Shirt-Bullar' & translation = Meat Balls). It is not only a favourite of kids when going out to eat, but from what I've observed, it's also prized by those older generation folks and blue collar workers. Go figure! This past summer I worked for two months at Slottskogen which is a Park in Gothenburg at a rather upscale sophisticated Cafe & Coffee Bar called Björngårdsvillan Cafe and this Food Dish was number one on the menu for kids and older folks. The place is under a new management this year 2012. I kept having the mistaken tendency to pronounce Köttbullar as Sh!tbullar - oops! Okay Okay back to Lingonberries. The plant itself in the wild when it is in fruit, looks very much like an impossible cross breeding of the low spreading Manzanita "Uva-Ursi" plant in California and the low growing miniature variety of California Coffeeberry called "Little Sur". Look at the photo below and see if you California native folks don't agree as to it's familiar appearance.

image - Lee Reich
The plants literally look so familiar. They grow underneath the Boreal Forest canopy settings and preferably in acid soils. They don't like alkali soils or hot summers. This is almost the same identical habitat as the common well known forest berry flavourite called Blueberry. I've never been picking for Lingonberries, but I have an idea it's no different than Blueberry collecting where you get yourself eaten alive by these northern Mosquitos.  Urrrrgh! Seriously, what is it about northern Boreal Forest environments and their 10 Gadzillion indigenous Mosquitoes ???

Credit: Privick Mill Nursery
The incredible thing now about the Cranberry bush and fruit by way of comparison is that the fruit are much bigger than the foliage which is exactly opposite of the Lingonberry. Both live in wet acid soils and boggy habitat. No doubt North American habitat for Cranberries has lots of mosquitos around as well. They are harvested however much differently. Ever see those small to medium to large sized ponds with men in full length wading gear and long pole rakes ? The work would be too tedious and difficult to pick one by one by hand, so these small depression areas where the berries are farmed are flooded with clean water and the berries detach and rise to the surface where gathering is made much more easily. 

Photo Courtesy of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
September is harvest-time for cranberry growers, who collect the red fruit  using special toothed scoops or by flooding the bogs and agitating the  plants. Today’s cranberry bogs can yield as many as 15,000 pounds of fruit that can be crushed and canned or eaten fresh. Cranberries grow wild in the Northeast, and as far south as Virginia. America and Canada produce 96 percent of the world’s cranberries, using them in tarts, sauces, preserves, juices, and more.

Cranberry Bog being "Wet Harvested"


Cranberry Bog being "Dry Harvested"

Photo by Jack Greenlee
Small Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) occurs in peat bogs like the Fall River Patterned Fen on the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota, USA. Incredibly, this State is the immigrant home of countless Swedes who immigrated almost a century or more ago as a result of a severe famine where one million out of four left Sweden for this State. Not only do they have the almost identical Boreal Forests, but also loaded with Moose, Lakes, Ponds, Bogs and Fens and lots of mosquitos just like Sweden. Now why wouldn't a Swede call this State his or her Nya Hemland ? Now you know the reason for the name - Minnesota Vikings! There are a number of excellent references to Cranberries and Lingonberries. The USDA Blog had some excellent articles earlier this week on a different smaller variety of Cranberry grown in Minnesota. The reference to the read is below.
Cranberries aren't just for holiday meals!
Image -
USDA - Cranberry Fact Sheets
Cranberries, Nature’s Garnets, are Ripening Across the Country
Oregon State Agricultural Extension: Lingonberry Production Guide for the Pacific Northwest
Washington State University: What Are Lingonberries ?
And on the lighter side of Cranberry Humor


  1. I live in the east U.S. I made cranberry jam a few year ago, instead of cranberry sauce. It wa amazing! Slightly tart, and so good on toast.

  2. Lingonberry jam is
    very tasty. I will
    try making a recipe
    with cranberries this
    Thanksgiving holiday!


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