The names of prairie fruits alone are enough to have the public go out and try them. With unique strong names like buffaloberry, chokecherry, and sea buckthorn, these fruits are proving to be just as nutritionally powerful as their names. According to a new study published in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science, researchers working at the University of Saskatchewan have discovered prairie fruits to be nutrient rich foods. This discovery has fruit growers in Saskatchewan ecstatic as the results could provide the push needed to develop these fruits for the commercial markets as food and medicinal extracts.
Buffaloberry is a native plant that is commonly seen in the western and central North American Great Plains. It is primarily a wildcrafted plant and the fruit are red, 6 to 9 mm in diameter, and slightly fleshy with a large single seed. Currently there is little data on the physiochemical properties of this fruit in literature.
According to the study, buffaloberry was high in ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid has long been associated in protection against immune deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, and eye disease. Levels of ascorbic acid in the buffaloberry were much higher than those reported for commercial berry fruits such as the blueberry and cranberry. The buffaloberry ascorbic acid level was also greater than 4 times that reported for oranges.
Buffaloberry showed the highest overall concentration of total phenolic compound (TPC). TPC exhibit antioxidant activities that are associated with human health benefits. The buffaloberry overall level of TPC was .84%, compared to the American cranberry at .53% and the highbush blueberry at .19%.
Chokecherry is a native shrub that grows throughout the Canadian prairies and through parts of the United States. The fruit are dark red to purple in color, 6 to 8 mm in diameter, and contain a single stone. The fruit has been commonly used as a base for homemade jams, jellies, syrups and fruit juice blends. The bark of the tree was historically used to make a tea that was used as a sedative and flavoring agent for cough and cold preparations. Data on the physiochemical properties of chokecherry is varied depending on the cultivar.
According to the study, chokecherry also contained high levels of anthocyanin pigments. Anthocyanin pigments contain anti-inflammatory properties, cardiovascular benefits, and anticarcinogenic properties. The chokecherry anthocyanic pigment levels were considerably higher than the levels reported for cranberries.
Sea Buckthorn is a hardy shrub with fruit that is around 8mm long and 7mm in diameter. This fruit, including the seed has gained some notoriety as having medicinal value. It is reputed to be an anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti cancer agent. It has also been linked to providing protective action against cardiovascular disease. According to the study, sea buckthorn contained high levels of lipids for a fruit. The lipid levels did vary with location and variety.
There are many potential uses for these native fruits. They can be used to produce nutrient rich ingredients by blending the fruits with cereals. They can also improve the food value of traditionally prepared foods and as supplements for nutrient poor populations. To the general public, they can simply be consumed directly as a healthy snack.
Rick Green, co-author of the study and Vice President of Technology at POS Bio-Sciences in Saskatoon, explains that the their evidence supports the historical data that these fruits possess enough nutritional power that they should be developed for commercial use. In fact, the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) is looking to fund a major project to further develop these prairie fruits. The GIFS is a public-private partnership that seeks to address the growing global demands for safe and nutritious foods. Additionally, future research may focus on the development of processed fruit products from these berries.