Aronia Berries – Old Fruit with a New Name

Aronia berry picking at Berry Hill Farms near Fertile, IA. Photo courtesy of Jaci Thorson.

Its aronia berry picking time in Iowa!  And if you are lucky enough to live near a pick-your-own aronia berry orchard, you are in for a day of fun and stained hands!  Fresh berries, juice and other aronia products may also be available now in some local grocery stores.

Aronia berries are not new to Iowa; they are actually indigenous to the state and were used by the Potawatomi Native Americans to cure colds. Formerly known as black chokeberries, rebranding of the less appetizing name of “chokeberry” has helped the native berry catch on and develop into what is now a big industry.  The berry’s new name comes from its genus, Aronia melancorpa. While grown throughout North America, the first US commercial cultivation of the berry bushes can be traced to the Sawmill Hollow Family Farm in the Loess Hills of western Iowa, where Andrew Pittz and his family planted about 200 bushes in 1997.   Since then, aronia production has grown and bushes have been planted in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.  Presently there are 300-400 growers in Iowa with small to large operations.  80 of these operations have been organic certified by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Arona berries at Berry Hill Farms near Fertile, IA. Photo courtesy Jaci Thorson.

These purple, pea-sized berries boast one of the highest antioxidant values ever recorded for fruits, superseding blueberries, elderberries, acai berries and goji berries, according to research published last year in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.  Also rich in vitamins and minerals, they have high levels of polyphenols, anthocyanins, and flavanols–antioxidants needed to fight free radicals–making them good at fighting inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and urinary tract infections.

While aronia berries are more astringent than blueberries, they can be eaten fresh or frozen.  Not many people eat them fresh. The fruit has a lot of tannins in the skin that creates a dry or chalky sensation in the mouth when eaten. They are a little less astringent after freezing but usually best processed into jam, juice or baked products where the aronia takes on a whole new taste of its own. To eat them raw, they are best used in smoothies, yogurt, ice cream or oatmeal. Berries, either fresh or frozen, can be used in any recipe as a substitute for cranberries, blueberries, or chokecherries.  They are also good added to pancakes or mixed with other fruits in a crisp or pie.  Other ideas include salsa, salads, beverages, cereal, pizza, chili, and soups.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides information on making jam from all berries.

So if you haven’t had an opportunity to try aronia berries fresh, frozen, or in another product, perhaps it is time to venture out and give these tart little berries a try!  They might make you pucker, but this superfruit will definitely add some health benefits to your diet.  And, chances are, this Iowa crop will grow on you!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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6 thoughts on “Aronia Berries – Old Fruit with a New Name

  1. We grow Aronia berries on our farm in LeClaire ,Iowa. We have 13+ acres that will produce about 40-50,000 pounds this year but still have no end source to buy our berries so that they end up left on the vine. Yes, we have belonged to several co-ops that failed, another buyer that many farmers have not been paid for the crops they sent him and now belong to the American Aronia Association.

    Such a wonderful health positive food and noone to help us get a way to get to the public.

    Any advice?

  2. Hi Bradley, I don’t know that I can offer any advice, but perhaps offer some contacts that may be of help. ISUEO has a commercial horticulturalist based in Iowa City-Patrick O-Malley, 319-337-2145, who may have some advice. Other contacts might be Aronia Berry Services of Northeast Iowa in Fairbank and the Arona Berry Growers Assn of Iowa (this group has a Facebook page for growers to share). Pick Your Own might also be an option. Unfortunately aronia berries are not the commodity that corn and soybeans are.

  3. After two harvests of Aronia berries in Colorado, I have found my preferred use for the berries is to juice them, dry the pulp for hot tea and use the juice for a varieties of cold drinks. Including; ice tea with lemon and sweetener, or over ice with seltzer water, sweetener and half and half or heavy cream (astonishingly good and pretty. Mixed with kombucia. And in martinis. As for markets, Bradley DeWall might consider providing frozen juice to the drink industries such as Hanson Sodas, Kombuchia brewers and the health oriented ice tea market. Celestial Seasoning types of tea marketers could have an interest in the pulp, as it make a very pretty and satisfying hot tea. Good luck! I love the fruit.

  4. Aronia berries are such a super food. So glad that you have found some good uses for them.

  5. Because Japanese beetles love aronia berries, my guess is most producers spray their bushes with pesticides, negating all the health benefits of the berries. Growers, please consider going organic and not using harmful chemicals on your berries.

    I only know of one organic producer so far — Sawmill Hollow Organic Farm in Missouri Valley.

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