Aronia berries are a wonderful summer berry, easy to grow and loaded with healthy substances. Aronia is often included in lists of so-called superfoods, and with good reason. If you’ve ever sampled aronia, however, you know it also tastes like health food. This little blue-black berry resembles a blueberry, but when you bite into it, you know you’ve been fooled.
There must be a way to enjoy this amazing berry! I did some experimenting with aronia this year, and have come to a few conclusions. I wrote this page to serve as a resource for Americans who want to start eating this wonderful superfood, which is already well-known in Europe.
Tip #1: Always cook aronia
While blueberries are soft and juicy, with a thin skin, aronia berries are firm, mealy, and with a tough skin. There is juice, but overall the texture is chewy and firm. The skin, especially, is unpleasant. The texture of the berry is greatly improved by cooking. I recommend always cooking aronia, no matter how you plan to serve it. To cook aronia, place it in a saucepan with a small amount of water, and simmer it, covered, for ten to fifteen minutes, stirring frequently. Do this without adding anything else to pot, even sugar or lemon juice. After ten or fifteen minutes, start testing the berries. Their color will have lightened slightly, and when you bite into a berry, you will notice the skin is decidedly more tender. Cook it as long as you like to achieve the texture you are looking for.
Alternately, you can do as the Europeans do, and make juice or jelly, eliminating the need to deal with the skin or mealy interior. I am way too lazy to make jelly, and think juice is kind of a waste, so I prefer to use the whole fruit.
2. Always add something sour to your aronia berries
Aronia does not have a great flavor. It is agreeable, but as far as a choice flavoring, it will not win any prizes. The flavor is complex, but in the earthy and bitter ranges, rather than the sweet, spicy and tangy ranges, like a blueberry. The flavor of aronia is improved tremendously by the addition of something sour to the recipe, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice. The tart flavor will set off the earthy sweet flavor of the aronia.
3. Consider sweetening aronias
Aronias are not particularly sour or bitter. To my palate, they have a lovely flavor that just happens to come along with other flavors that are less lovely. If you have added some sourness to your recipe and you still find it a bit unpleasant, add something sweet, like sugar, maple syrup, or apple juice. The “off” flavors of aronia are easily muted by not very much sweetener at all.
4. Consider pairing aronia with other flavors
I don’t find aronia to be that interesting by itself. I have certainly done it, and have a fondness for it. But every time I eat plain aronia, I am reminded, “This is health food.” It doesn’t need to be that way! Adding other, complementary flavors to your aronia recipe, like spices and herbs, will take your aronia from edible to spectacular.
Aronia is native to the United States, looks beautiful, and is easy to grow. Shorter varieties are available that make a lovely low hedge. The berries are rich black-purple in color with a fine white down, and the bushes bear profusely. I easily harvested 8 quarts of plump berries from four bushes in two days, and there are plenty left. The foliage also turns red in the fall. This plant is worth cultivating in the home garden, and is great for parts of the garden that border public areas, where people will walk by, oblivious to what a treasure lies before them, leaving all the berries for you!
I will close with a sample recipe I call GLAM Jam – Ginger, Lime, Aronia and Maple
GLAM Jam – makes four pints
2 US quarts fresh, ripe aronia berries, stemmed, picked over, washed and drained
1 US cup water
1 and 1/2 US cups of pure, grade B maple syrup
a four inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated
grated zest and juice of two large limes
jars for canning
Prep your canner and jars according to your favorite method. I use half-pint jars with two-piece lids and a boiling water canner. In a large pot, put the aronia berries and the cup of water over medium-low heat. Bring the water to a simmer and cook the berries, covered and stirring frequently, for ten to fifteen minutes. They will soften , release some juice, and lighten in color. Test a berry for doneness by chewing it to make sure the skins are tender. If not, keep cooking until they are. When the berries are cooked, get out your immersion or stick blender and have a go at the berries. This is a matter of preference. I usually blend mine about 50%. You could make it very smooth or leave the berries whole if you prefer. Then add the maple syrup and ginger, mix, and bring it up to a boil. Boil for two or three minutes, then turn off the heat. Add the lime zest and juice and mix well. Ladle into jars and process. I did the half pints for ten minutes in the canner. Let the preserves sit at least overnight for the flavor to develop. Aronia is a natural source of pectin, and you do not need to bring the jam to the setting point to get it to set, nor do you need additional sweetener or pectin. I’ve added the amount of sweetener I like, which is not very sweet, and the amount of ginger I like, which is a lot. Feel free to adjust the proportions to your own liking. Just keep the water and berry amounts the same and you should be fine to experiment.
I hope you find a way to enjoy this fantastic food!
Photo from Wikimedia Commons