Aronia Berries: The Local Acai Berry Alternative

Packed with antioxidants and native to North America, Aronia berries are set to replace Acai berries as Mother Nature’s best superfood.

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    Aronia berries, also known as black chokecherries, are supernutritious and easy to grow.

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With the growing craze for superfoods such as Acai Berries, Goji Berries and Spirulina, there is a new potential superfoods-list topper: Aronia berries (Aronia melanocarpa). With articles citing such claims as, “Acai is a berry that has been in the headlines, but research reveals that it takes a backseat to a berry called Aronia” (Iowa State University Extension) and “Aronia berries contain very high levels of antioxidants — higher than acai, grapes, elderberries, blueberries, and other fruits” (Kansas State University Extension). An ingredient in the popular MonaVie health tonic, Aronia berries are a great food to add to your diet.

The Iowa State University Extensions reports on the health benefits of Aronia berries: “Each tiny berry of Aronia melanocarpa contains a powerhouse of antioxidants. Studies done in the U.S. and around the world indicate that the Aronia berry can benefit cardiovascular health, the digestive system, liver health, and muscle recovery after workouts.” 

More specific research into just what makes Aronia berries antioxidant powerhouses reveals that “ORAC, Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, is the method that is used to measure the antioxidant capabilities of biological samples such as fresh fruits and vegetables. The ORAC value recorded for Aronia is about 58 percent higher in antioxidant levels than blueberries and over 90 percent more than cranberries … Proanthocyanidins have benefits that are directly related to protection against Cardiovascular disease. The concentration of PAs in the Aronia berry is among the highest reported value of any food.”

What is especially exciting about the health benefits of the dark purple Aronia berry is how easy it can be grown in North America. Also known as chokeberries, they are a native species found from Nova Scotia all the way to Florida.

The United States Department of Agriculture provides a general description of the Aronia berry plant: “A member of the Rose family, black chokeberry is a deciduous shrub which can grow to a height of 3 to 6 feet tall. The fine-toothed leaves are medium green and hairless, with raised glands along the top of the midrib. In spring, the white bisexual flowers form clusters that are 2 to 2½ inches across. The primary pollinators are small bees. As the seasons progress, the trees turn a deep glossy green. In mid to late summer the fruit begins to form. As the pea-sized fruit ripens, it darkens to a purplish-black color. The fruit are pomes which will begin to drop from the plants shortly after ripening. The fruits are quite juicy, but will begin to shrivel up after ripening. The juice and seeds are deep purple in color. There are 1 to 5 small seeds per pome.”

Aronia melanocarpa is a self-seeding perennial and relatively resistant to diseases, pests and even the usual top berry plant nemesis — birds. Several varieties are available for planting. Kansas State University Extension provides information on which varieties are most suitable for any purpose: “‘Autumn Magic’ and ‘Iraqis Beauty’ are commonly sold ornamental cultivars of Aronia melanocarpa. They were selected for their ornamental traits — white flowers, shiny green leaves, orange-red fall foliage, and dark purple berries. If not harvested, the berries will hang on the bushes until songbirds eat them in late winter. ‘McKenzie’ is a cultivar that was selected for use in windbreaks and conservation plantings, not for commercial berry production. It was released in 2008. ‘Viking’ and ‘Nero’ were selected in Russia for commercial fruit production. Within the last 15 years, these two cultivars were introduced back into the United States. Mature plants of ‘Viking’ are six to eight feet tall with 40 or more shoots per plant. They are the size of a common lilac bush and live just as long.”

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