A Brief History of Cranberries

Pucker up: Thanksgiving (and plenty of cranberry sauce) is almost here

Jacqui Hurst/CORBIS

You may not know it, but Vaccinium macrocarpon will probably be on your table this Thanksgiving. It’s not a virus—it’s the botanical name for the American cranberry, a fruit that shines next to a turkey, some mashed potatoes and some grateful, hungry guests. Here are some great moments in the history of this superfood:

1550: A Sour Staple 

Cranberries were a staple for Native Americans, who harvested wild cranberries and used them in a variety of remedies, foods and drinks. National Geographic’s Sarah Whitman-Salkin writes that the berries were even used in an energy bar-like food called “pemmican,” which served as a vital source of nutrition for fur traders during the winter months.

1816: Commercial Cranberries

Commercial cranberry cultivation started in the United States in 1816. Shawnie M. Kelley writes that when Captain Henry Hall, a Revolutionary war veteran, came across a cranberry vine thriving in some sand on Cape Cod, he became the first person to successfully cultivate cranberries. 

1912: Cranberries in a Can

Cranberry sauce may be a Turkey Day staple, but it wasn’t available in a can until 1912, when a lawyer named Marcus L. Urann revolutionized the industry got the idea to buy a cranberry bog and can cranberries. He eventually formed a cranberry cooperative that renamed itself Ocean Spray. By 1940, cranberry sauce had become the jiggly, canned log beloved (and argued over) by millions of Americans.

The Future: Sweet Cranberries? 

They’re known for face-twisting tartness, but the cranberries of the future could be sweet. NPR’s Angus Chen writes that a new experimental variety of the fruit tastes sweet instead of sour—and it doesn’t require sugar to eat. Developed by researchers at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the “Sweetie” cranberry is the result of decades of research. In the future, the “Sweetie” could very well turn the mouth-puckering novelty into a beloved snack food.

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