Harvest of health

Cranberries aren’t just for the holidays anymore.

Increased awareness of their numerous health benefits has made cranberries popular year round, said Kim Patten, a horticulturist at the WSU Long Beach Research and Extension Unit.
With the increasing demand for cranberries — specifically Craisins, a dried and sweetened version — the Ocean Spray plant south of Aberdeen, Wash., plans to expand, said Bob Radford, West Coast plant manager for Ocean Spray. A $32 million production line will be added next year, which will provide 45 additional jobs and a greater level of stability to the local cranberry industry.

“(The plant) puts a permanency to the cranberry industry on the West Coast,” Patten said. “This provides a huge market that allows growers a certain level of comfort in the future.”

The WSU Long Beach research station, which was established in the mid-1920s to address problems related to the cranberry industry, has continued that focus throughout the years, Patten said. More than 100 cranberry growers live in Washington, with the majority of them on the southwest coast, and the research station is an important resource for many.

Most of the station’s cranberry research focuses on insect management, weed control and disease prevention, Patten said. With the Ocean Spray plant expansion, the industry might have additional research priorities.

“For example, there might be a need to evaluate varieties that are ideally suited for Craisins,” he said.

After reaching a low of 10 cents a pound in 2000, the cranberry industry is recovering. Currently, cranberries average between 40 and 45 cents a pound depending on the area.

Patten said he sees the strong push in nutritional research as a benefit to the industry, as well as the increase in public awareness of the health benefits cranberries provide, such as antiviral properties and the ability to decrease the risk of urinary-tract infections.

One health nutritional news organization, Nutraingredients, www.nutraingredients-usa.com, noted that the chemicals in cranberries, called proanthocyanidins, might inhibit the growth of human lung and colon cancer and leukemia cells in culture, without affecting healthy cells. And they might help stop cancer from spreading, the tests showed.

In July 2006, scientists from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York reported that flavonoids in cranberries might be able to reduce the formation of plaque, inhibit acidic conditions and stop bacteria from sticking to teeth.

“People are seeing more of a reason to drink cranberry juice, so you’re capturing that health market,” Patten said.

More information about the Long Beach Research Station is available at www.puyallup.wsu.edu/wsulongbeach/history.html

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