Culinary experiments with cranberry

Culinary experiments with cranberry

Cranberry is not in the list of ingredients in A Short Course in Culinary Experiments.  At the time of writing the book, I did not think that cranberry could be used in Indian cuisine.  Those familiar with Susan Stamberg of NPR, might have heard her describing the famous cranberry relish recipe, usually around the time of Thanksgiving.  I was never tempted to try the preparation described by Ms. Stamberg because it called for adding ½ cup sugar for 2 cups of cranberry.  In my mind, sugar went into dessert items and not into a side dish.  The wide acclamation of Ms. Stamberg’s recipe also gave me the (wrong) notion that one has to add considerable amount of sugar to make cranberry edible.

Since the publication of print edition of the book in 2007, I found that cranberry could be incorporated into many Indian dishes.  Those who have heard Susan Stamberg’s description of the recipe for the cranberry relish, and wondered if there might be an alternative to the addition of sugar to a cranberry preparation, can take solace.  Yes, there are alternatives.  There are many recipes using cranberry and hence they will be described in different posts.  But first, something about the medicinal and nutritional characteristics of cranberry.

Cranberry has been routinely used as a home-remedy for urinary tract infection (UTI).  However, the medical literature to support cranberry as treatment for UTI is far from conclusive.  It has been shown that the consumption cranberry reduces the ability of the bacteria that causes UTI to bind to the walls of the urinary tract, there by reducing the chance to trigger an infection.  This mechanistic finding is important in that the use of cranberry as a prophylaxis for UTI has scientific validity, even though its effectiveness might not be high once infection sets in.  To appreciate the significance of the above mechanistic finding, you have to know little bit about antibiotics and how they work (the link here explains it well).

Since the proliferation of bacteria is prevented by not allowing them to the stick the urinary tract (by the compounds contained in cranberry) the issue of antibiotic resistance does not arise here.  Unfortunately, there is much variability in the effectiveness of cranberry against UTI in the population – meaning that only a fraction of the population will benefit from taking cranberry.  This variability is one reason for the non-recommendation of cranberry as a treatment for UTI.  Thus, people who get UTI frequently might want to take cranberry as a preventive measure; knowing fully well that this might or might not be effective.  If it is effective for you, well, you have a food-medicine (or medicine-food) combination available for you.  If the infection has already set in, there is no advantage in taking cranberry and antibiotic treatment might be warranted.  Now, cranberry is being investigated as prophylaxes for other bacterial infections such as stomach ulcers and gum diseases.  For an excellent summary of the health benefits of cranberry, check here.

While reading the medical literature about cranberry, I came across an intriguing medical hypothesis concerning cranberry, UTI and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  This hypothesis comes from UK based researchers and they propose that taking cranberry can ameliorate RA symptoms for patients, at least in the early stage of the disease.  The link here offers a non-technical version of this medical hypothesis.  It must be emphasized again that this is a medical hypothesis and as mentioned above, the variability in the effectiveness of cranberry for UTI can again come into the fore, in the case of RA patients as well.

Whole cranberry and pure cranberry juice are very sour.  To make these appetizing, considerable amount of sweeteners are added to cranberry preparations (that are available commercially).  Another method used is to mix cranberry juice with other fruit juices such as that of apple, strawberry, grape, etc.  My attempt here is to see if cranberry can be made palatable without the addition of any sugars.  It is also useful to remember that cranberry, like other berries, has high amount of antioxidant compounds (check Table 5 in this link for a useful list) and its consumption has other merits, apart from the medicinal value. Helen Sanders of Health Ambition (link here) has a good summery of the benefits of cranberry juice, for those inclined to drink the goodness of cranberries.

In the recipes described, I use only whole cranberries; and of course, all are devoid of added sweeteners.  In the fall season, when cranberries are in season (October/November), I buy cranberries in bulk and store them frozen.  When purchased in bulk quantity, and when in season, cranberries are not that expensive.  If you try some of these preparations, I will not be surprised if you also decide to purchase cranberries in bulk quantity.

Recipes

Post # 1 : Cranberry & bitter melon

Post # 2 : Cranberry & yellow lentils

Post # 3 : Cranberry-Mushroom-Tomato

Post # 4 : Cranberry in Sambar

Post # 5 : Cranberry in Chutneys – Part I

Post # 6 : Cranberry in Chutneys – Part II

Post # 7 : Cranberry in Chutneys – Part III

Post # 8: Cranberry in Chutneys – Part IV

To get the e-book of A Short Course in Culinary Experiments, click here for the Amazon Kindle Store

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