As we head into the peak berry-picking season of summer, which fresh berry is best? Here’s our fact-based, completely subjective ranking, which takes into account taste, nutrition and ease of use.
Just one cup of strawberries is packed with more than 80 mg of vitamin C — a powerful antioxidant — which is around the recommended daily dose for adults. Plus, it clocks in at just 50 calories and contains other beneficial compounds that help combat age-related cognitive decline, heart disease and some forms of cancer. These bright little beauties also contain a host of other nutrients such as folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and calcium. Given all this, you can polish off an entire pint and pat yourself on the back (nope, you can’t do that if you add ice cream).
Strawberries, like all the berries profiled here, contain soluble fiber that helps you feel full while delivering natural, juicy sweetness, yet possess a unique flavor and texture that makes them the most versatile berry come mealtime. At breakfast, slice them over yogurt or blend into smoothies. At lunch or dinner, try them in a spinach salad: Since strawberries are low in acid, a tart balsamic vinaigrette makes an excellent flavor complement. When it comes to easy desserts, strawberries are a hands-down winner, too, whether layered with whipped cream into strawberry shortcake or enrobed in decadent chocolate.
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As nature’s only blue food, blueberries pack a nutritious punch like nothing else. This is thanks in part to anthocyanins, which give them (and all berries) their distinctive color and contain antioxidants that combat free radicals and help protect against the development of cancer, heart disease and degenerative brain disease. Additional compounds in blueberries improve motor skills and nighttime vision and may boost your metabolism. Plus, one cup delivers 4 grams fiber and just 85 calories.
Blueberries are one of just three fruits native to North America, along with cranberries and Concord grapes. Originally, they were small and quite tart. The development of cultivated blueberries around the turn of the 20th century gave us the large, juicy berries we enjoy today. The fruit is delicious mixed into batter, from pancakes to muffins, thanks to a smooth exterior skin. Salads can benefit, too: Try topping your next plate of mixed greens with blueberries, feta and almonds. Since blueberries keep longer than most summer berries — up to a week when stored well — it’s easy to keep a constant supply on hand.
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Of all the berries, raspberries are the most intensely flavored. They possess an amazing nutritional profile to match. They have high antioxidant levels similar to blueberries and contain compounds called ketones, recognized for the potential to prevent obesity. The fruit also has anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit those battling arthritis. Raspberries come in many colors and varieties, including golden, black and purple, although red is the most common. Each color berry has a unique combination of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Part of what gives raspberries their deliciously tender quality is that the inner cavity is left behind when the fruit detaches from its core base or hull (unlike the blackberry, which retains its core when plucked). Because they are incredibly fragile and don’t fare well in storage — one reason they rank third on our list — it’s important to check them for mold before purchasing, and eat them quickly after bringing them home. But when they’re this delicious and nutritious, who needs convincing? Whether you eat them straight from the basket, scatter them over French toast or blend them into an easy coulis to serve over ice cream or pound cake, their rich, yet delicate, flavor is irresistible.
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Blackberries are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C and polyphenols like ellagic acid, which protects the brain from oxidative stress, reduces the effects of age-related conditions, fights cancer and brings a host of other benefits. They also offer the highest fiber content of the berries on our list: one cup contains nearly 6 grams of fiber, helping fill you up naturally while delivering around 45 calories. Blackberries land last (but not least!) on our list because they’re higher in tannins than other berries and sometimes have an acidic or sour flavor that benefits from a touch of sweetness: Whip up a jam-like sauce for pancakes or ice cream with a bit of sugar, bake them with nectarines into a cobbler or add them to fresh baked goods.
When you catch blackberries at their peak, they have a natural juicy goodness that’s perfect for eating out of hand or adding to savory preparations. Toss them in a salad with goat cheese and crunchy walnuts or combine them with ginger for a compote that tastes fresh when paired with grilled salmon or roasted pork. Over the years, blackberries have been crossbred to produce many delicious varieties, including olallieberries, boysenberries, loganberries and marionberries (aka the “Cabernet of Blackberries”).
As the berry season gets into full swing, do your body good and sample them all.