How to Choose Good Blueberries: The Complete Guide
Blueberries are important plants with a huge economic value around the world. In 2018, the value of the global blueberry trade reached $3.45 billion, with the nutritional benefits of the plant a major reason why they are so highly valued. However, to reap the economic or nutritional benefits of blueberries, you’ll want to ensure you have the correct ones. Whether you’re at the local nursery or the supermarket you’ll want to know, how to choose good blueberries?
To choose good blueberries in the store for direct consumption, look for non-wrinkled and decent-sized options that still has their bloom intact. When choosing blueberries for planting, pick the right varieties for your region and look for the signs of a healthy plant while at the grower’s nursery.
The rest of the article will look at how to choose blueberries for consumption and for planting in more detail. You’ll also see a comprehensive list of the health benefits of blueberries to understand why choosing good ones to add to your diet or to grow for personal consumption and commercial reasons is an excellent decision.
Blueberry Smoothie Tip: I include frozen fruit, like blueberries, instead of adding ice. The secret is having a blender powerful enough to handle the frozen fruit.
How to Choose Blueberries at the Store
To choose blueberries at the store, there are four major things you should watch out for. They are covered below.
Blueberries should be blue-black or deep purple-blue. A reddish or pinkish color is a sign that the blueberries aren’t ripe yet. You can ignore the pink color only if you are buying pink lemonade blueberries 1.
The bloom is the whitish color you’ll find on fresh blueberries. It is a completely natural protection for the berries, making them more resistant to insect attack or bacteria infestation 2.
Choosing berries with the bloom still intact is one of the best ways to be sure they are fresh. The bloom will fade away with time and can be wiped off with a constant touch. So berries with the bloom still intact show that they haven’t been handled a lot while at the store.
Blueberries that are shriveled, wrinkled, or just soft and bruised are already old 3. To know if the blueberries have been bruised, check for some juice stains in the container. Old and bruised blueberries aren’t necessarily useless. They can still be useful if you intend to make smoothies and the store is offering a discount on them. If not, check another aisle or store.
Although there’s no scientific backing for how the size of blueberries may affect the quality, the smallest berries tend to be tastier compared to the biggest ones. If you find a selection of berries with packs containing smaller and bigger ones separately, choosing the smaller ones is often a good idea.
How to Choose Blueberries for Growing
Blueberries don’t just make delicious snacks; the plants can add beauty to any landscape. As we’ve seen earlier, the blueberry economy is also a healthy one. If you want to start your own farm to grow the blueberries you consume and design your landscape or in preparations for going full-scale commercial in the future. Here are a few things you should do.
Choose the Right Variety
When choosing blueberries to grow, the first thing you should do is to decide on the varieties you want. There are many cultivated varieties (cultivars) in the market today, each of them varying in size of the berries and the time of bloom.
A good tip is to choose two to three cultivars to ensure cross-pollination. This won’t be necessary if you choose to go with varieties that are tagged “self-fruitful” or “self-fertile.” However, it’s harder to find growers with such varieties.
When choosing different varieties to encourage cross-pollination, don’t forget to stay within the main group. Highbush blueberries will not pollinate a lowbush type. You should also ensure that their time of bloom is the same.
Some of the factors that should guide your decision to choose a variety include fruit size, taste, and color. If you intend to sell some of your harvests later, you should consider varieties that are smaller and firmer as they tend to have more flavors for baking or processing. They’ll also withstand the rigors of storage better.
If the aesthetic side of things appeals to you, you should consider the plant colors and bush size in your decision-making process. Some blueberry varieties will take on a beautiful yellow, purple, red, or orange color in the fall and anywhere from white to pink during the spring.
Finally, you should choose varieties that are bred for resistance to diseases that are common in your area. The best commercial growers will include this information on the label and only sell certified disease-free plants. It’s also a good idea to choose local growers to make dispute resolutions easy if they arise.
Pay Attention to Leaf and Fruit Buds
If you visited the commercial grower in the spring, you should look at the fruit and leaf buds on the berry plants you intend to choose. You’ll find lots of buds in a healthy plant, while unhealthy ones will have few buds. Touch some of the buds gently to check for signs of water stress. If the buds don’t brush off when touched, they are healthy.
Watch for Leaf Discoloration and Spots
Black spots on the leaves of a plant signify plant disease. You should also avoid choosing the blueberry plant if you find yellow or orange veins running through the leaves, and winter isn’t near. Such discolorations on the leaves of blueberry plants are normal when the plant is about to go dormant for the winter—it cuts off nutrients to the leaves at this point, causing them to die off.
Check the Height of the Plant
A healthy two-year-old blueberry plant will typically be 24 to 30 in (60.96 to 76.2 cm) tall, while three-year-old plants will measure 36 to 48 in (91.44 to 121.92 cm). Any plants around this age bracket that is shorter than this height range is most likely unhealthy.
Choosing plants that are younger than 2-3 years is not advised as plants within this age have a higher chance of survival when transplanted to another location.
Inspect the Roots
Examine the roots to see if there are any unhealthy growths or if they look underdeveloped. If you’re buying nursery plants, it’s easy to examine them as they are packaged bare-root 4.
Growers that sell directly from the garden typically have a process that allows customers to check the roots on the plant. If the roots look weak in any way, don’t buy the plants for growing.
What Type of Soil Do Blueberries Need?
The best soil for growing blueberry bushes is a loose soil with good draining qualities and lots of organic material. In the US, blueberry shrubs can thrive for more than 25 years in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 to 9, given the right care 5. The plants require acidic soil with a pH between 4.0 to 5.0 6.
Spacing – Planting and Fertilizing
Planting in the fall or spring is ideal. If you want to form them as solid hedges, plant the blueberry bushes 2 to 2.5 feet apart. If you want them to grow individually, space them up to 6 feet apart. If you’re going to have more than one row, allow 8 to 10 feet between them.
Blueberry plants respond best when there is 2 to 4 inches of mulch over the top base. Grass clippings, bark mulch or acid compost all are good choices.
Once the plant is established, about one month after planting, they respond well to acid fertilizers. Always follow the instructions because blueberry plants are sensitive to too much. You can always check with a reputable garden center in your area for recommendations 7
Tips for Picking and Storing Your Blueberries
As you’ve seen above, ripe blueberries are plump and have a deep blue or purple color. They’ll also have the gray or whitish bloom. If the blueberry is firm and shows a hint of red, white, or green, it isn’t fully ripened yet. Don’t pick them as soon as they turn blue, wait a few days until they practically fall off into your hand 8.
- Sort the blueberries after picking them to remove the moldy ones. This will prevent one of them from spoiling the entire bunch.
- If you store your picked blueberries in closed bags or containers, make sure they aren’t under the sun or under direct heat. Blueberries are generally fragile. Exposing them to such heat will significantly shorten how long they can be stored before being frozen or cooked. This is why the containers used to store blueberries in stores have holes in them and are kept away from heat.
- Don’t wash the blueberries you’ve picked from your farm until you are ready to eat, cook, or freeze them. If you want to freeze them, you’ll want to check my blog post first, How to Freeze Blueberries. Washing blueberries too early will make them soften quickly. You should also refrigerate your blueberries as soon as you can. Freshly-picked blueberries can stay a couple of weeks when refrigerated properly. However, the berries will begin to lose their flavor and texture after a week.
Why Choosing Blueberries is Important – History
Commercial blueberries—both the lowbush (wild) and highbush (cultivated) variants—are historically from North America. The berries are wildly eaten today, but they were first cultivated just over a century ago in New Jersey 9. The first harvest of cultivated blueberries was recorded in 1916, with the highbush variety making its way into Europe in the 1930s.
Today, the cultivated variety of blueberries is grown commercially in 38 states of the US and in other countries around the world such as Canada, Poland, Germany, Mexico, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and New Zealand.
The plant’s products are one of the few true botanical berries. They come in clusters and are filled with antioxidants and vitamins. They are also sweet and juicy, making them excellent snacks and a regular fixture in many cooking recipes 10.
The Nutritional Value of Blueberries
A cup of blueberries contains around 84 calories, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Below is a table containing some of the main nutrients in a cup of berries showing the quantity and the percentage of your recommended daily value.
|Nutrient||Quantity||Percentage of Daily Value|
|Vitamin K||28.6 micrograms||35.8%|
|Vitamin E||0.84 milligrams||4.2%|
|Vitamin A||80 international units||1.6%|
|Vitamin C||14.4 milligrams||24%|
|Dietary fiber||3.6 grams||14.4%|
Choosing Good Blueberries For Health
Blueberries hold a wide range of health benefits. We’ll go through some of them to understand why you need to spend time choosing good blueberries from the store or choosing blueberry plants from the nursery.
Contain a Lot of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that protect your body from free radicals. These unstable molecules damage cells and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer. Blueberries have one of the highest levels of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables 11.
The antioxidant compounds in blueberries are known as flavonoids. One group of compounds known as anthocyanins is believed to be responsible for a lot of the beneficial health effects of blueberries 12. Eating blueberries regularly can also increase the antioxidant levels in your body 13.
Are Nutritious Low-Calorie Fruits
In the table above, we saw some of the main nutrients in a cup of blueberries. Generally, every cup or 148 g (5.22 oz) serving of blueberries will contribute 36% of vitamin K, 24% of vitamin C, 25% of manganese, and 4 g (0.14 oz) of fiber towards your recommended daily intake for these nutrients 14. This is among a plethora of other nutrients in smaller quantities.
The cup contains only 84 calories with 15 g (0.53 oz) of carbohydrates, which makes the berries an excellent source of many important nutrients. You don’t have to worry about the number of calories consumed while eating them.
Limit Damage to the DNA
Oxidative DNA damage occurs tens of thousands of times each day in the human body. It is one of the reasons why we grow older, and also a contributor to the development of diseases such as cancer.
Since the berries are high in antioxidants, they can reduce the impact of the free radicals that damage the DNA. A study of 168 people showed that drinking a liter of blueberry and apple juice for four weeks reduced DNA damage by 20% 15. This is in line with other studies that used fresh or powdered berries.
Prevent Cholesterol Damage in the Blood
The oxidation of bad cholesterol in the body is one of the causes of heart disease. Since the antioxidants in blueberries can reduce the levels of oxidized cholesterol in the body, they are important for heart health. A study showed that eating 75 g (2.65 oz) of blueberries with your meal can significantly reduce the oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol 16.
Can Lower Blood Pressure
There are strong indications that blueberries hold significant benefits for people with high blood pressure, which is an important risk factor for heart conditions. This study showed that taking 50 g (1.76 oz) of blueberries per day reduced the blood pressure in people that were at risk of heart disease by 4-6% 17. Other studies showed similar effects 18.
May Protect Against Heart Disease
We’ve seen how blueberries can lower blood pressure and prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. However, these are only risk factors for heart diseases. An observatory study involving more than 90,000 nurses showed that those who took anthocyanins (the main antioxidants in blueberries) the most had a 32% lower risk of heart attacks than those who took it the least 19.
Can Fight Muscle Damage Post Exercise
Highly-demanding exercise can cause muscle fatigue and soreness. This is as a result of local inflammation and oxidative stress in the muscle tissues. Blueberry supplements can reduce the damage that occurs at the molecular level, thereby minimizing soreness and improving muscle performance. A study involving ten athletes showed that blueberries accelerated muscle recovery after highly demanding leg exercises 20.
Can Help Fight UTIs
It is common knowledge that cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections, especially in women. With blueberries being closely related to cranberries, they can provide the same benefits 21. Both berries contain almost the same active substances known as anti-adhesives, which prevent E.coli from sticking to the bladder’s wall.
Can Improve Memory and Overall Brain Function
The brain’s aging process can be negatively impacted by oxidative stress, negatively affecting its overall function. Studies in animals showed that the antioxidants in blueberries might have some positive impact on the parts of the brain that are vital for intelligence. These oxidants showed some benefit for the aging neurons, leading to better cell signaling.
Such studies in humans have also shown some promise. In this study, older adults that drank blueberry juice daily showed improvements in brain function after twelve weeks 22. Another study spanning six years and featuring over 16,000 people showed that blueberries and strawberries delayed mental aging by up to two and a half years 23.
May Be Anti-Diabetic
Research has shown that the anthocyanins in blueberries can have a positive effect on glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. A study featuring individuals with insulin resistance showed that taking two blueberry smoothies improved insulin sensitivity 24.
Improvements in insulin sensitivity can lower the risk of type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Bottom of FormHigh
Knowing how to choose blueberries both for consumption and for growth is important if you are going to reap the numerous nutritional and economic benefits. By choosing berries that are fully ripened and freshly-picked, you’ll have a minimum 14-day supply of blueberries to eat as snacks or to add in your recipes.
Suppose you are interested in growing your own bush for personal consumption or gradually making an entrance into the commercial space. In that case, it starts with choosing the right disease-free cultivars for your region.
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- USDA: Pink Lemonade A Pink-Fruited Blueberry Selection[↩]
- Consumer Reports: Q&A: Is the the cloudy coating on blueberries safe to eat? [↩]
- U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council: Buying Blueberries[↩]
- SFGATE: How to Pick a Good Blueberry Plant[↩]
- USDA: Plant Hardiness Zone Map[↩]
- University of Minnesota Extension: Growing blueberries in the home garden[↩]
- U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council: Planting Blueberries[↩]
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Growing Blueberries[↩]
- U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council: History of Blueberries[↩]
- USDA: Blueberries[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Cellular antioxidant activity of common fruits[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Procyanidin, anthocyanin, and chlorogenic acid contents of Highbush and low bush blueberries[↩]
- National center for Biotechnology Information: Absorption of Anthocyanins from blueberries and serum antioxidant status in human subjects[↩]
- NutritionData: Blueberries, raw[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Impact of multiple genetic polymorphisms on effects of a 4-week blueberry juice intervention on ex vivo induced lymphocytic DNA damage in human volunteers[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Consumption of blueberries with a high-carbohydrate, low-fat breakfast decreases postprandial serum markers of oxidation[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Daily blueberry consumption improves blood pressure and arterial stiffness[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in your and middle-ages women[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: A systematic review of the evidence for cranberries and blueberries in UTI prevention[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults[↩]
- Wiley Online Library: Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Bioactive in Blueberries Improve Insulin Sensitivity in Obese, Insulin-Resistant Men and Women[↩]