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Cranberries: They fight cancer and put the zing in Thanksgiving

10/10/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST
Cranberry sauce is likely to add a tang to the rich flavours filling many Thanksgiving dinner plates across Canada this weekend. 

But the tartness some diners seek is just one of the many benefits that can be reaped from the bright red berry. 

"Cranberries are an interesting fruit," says Matt Commandant, manager of Iroquois Cranberry Growers in Ontario's Muskoka region.

Commandant stops short of calling cranberries, a native North American fruit, "magical," but he easily talks up a lot of their "neat qualities."

The health benefits of the berries rich in antioxidants have been well-known for years, and range from anti-inflammatory properties to the ability to help fight urinary tract infections and cancer.

The physical structure of cranberries is also a boon for the way they are harvested in bogs or marshes that have been flooded.

"They have air cells in them, so they actually will float and that makes it easier for us to harvest them, because we use this water method where the machine knocks the berries off the vine and they float to the surface and then we corral them in," says Commandant.

Separating the good from the bad

Good cranberries will also bounce, while ones that aren't as crisp or hard won't.

"We have a machine that will separate the good from the bad," says Commandant.

"Poor cranberries fall through to the slush buckets at the bottom."

Harvest begins at the end of September or the beginning of October.

"We see it as having a window of the month of October," says Commandant.

He acknowledges that the tartness of the berry may not be for everyone, but he falls firmly in the camp of those who like it.

"It's a love-it or hate-it fruit in terms of taste. A lot of people like their cranberries with turkey," he says.

"I certainly enjoy it year-round. Almost everyone wants it at the table. It's an important part of their Thanksgiving."

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