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See also: Blueberry History
Vacinnium is the family of all blueberries and includes more than 450 plants. This plant grows wild around the world and there are many names given to different blueberries. For practical and commercial purposes we concentrate on three different varieties:
V. corymbosum. (Northern Highbush) Grow in the forests wild in North America and were used to cultivate the modern highbush or cultivated blueberry industry along with the V. Ashei.
V. ashei. (Southern Rabbiteye). You may be suprised to learn that blueberries thrive in the Southern USA. A variety called the Rabbiteye is named this because the calyx on the berry resembles the eye of the rabbit!
V. angustifolium. (Lowbush or also called "Wild blueberries." These dwarf bushes are very cold hardy, surviving in the wild as far north as Arctic North America. These Blueberries only reach a height of 1 or 2 feet. and include the low sweet Blueberry (V. angustifolium), which is found from the Arctic to Minnesota and the mountains of New York and New Hampshire, and the sour-tasting velvet-leaf Blueberry (V. myrtilloides), which is found wild throughout New England and west.
Many different names have been given to the numerous varieties of Vacinnium that produce edible fruits, such as Blueberry, Bilberry, Cowberry, Cranberry, Crowberry; Farkleberry, Lingonberry, Partridgeberry, Huckleberry (not the true Huckleberry, which is Gaylussacia), Whortleberry, and Sparkleberry to mention a few.
Delicious fresh blueberries are a summertime treat and tradition in North America. You may now notice fresh blueberries on the shelves year round as well thanks to production in the Southern Hemisphere. About 50 percent of all blueberries produced are dedicated to the fresh market. The harvest starts in Florida in the Early Spring and Ends in British Columbia Canada in October and sometimes later. Blueberry are grown in rows that are cultivated year round to produce sweet and plump berries. When the berry is a deep blue color, the blueberries are carefully hand picked and rushed to nearby packing houses. They are chilled, and rushed to markets in nearby cities and off to air fright around the world. In fact, did you know that the North American Industry ships more than 100 metric tons of fresh blueberries each year to Iceland, and more than 500 metric tons to Japan. The blueberries are packed in plastic trays of different sizes and are normally in your market within hours of harvest! In the winter -- you will find fresh blueberries from South America and Australia and New Zealand which are air freighted across the globe to your local market.
Blueberries are processed in a number of different forms for availability year round and as ingredients for the food processing industry. Blueberry fields are grown in long straight rows and the plants are trained into shapes that fit harvesting. Although some processed blueberries are hand picked, a majority are mechanically harvested with specially designed blueberry harvesters. There are several varieties, but for the most part the concept is simple: A machine is driven or towed through the field and mechanical rods shake the plants to drop the blueberries into buckets or conveyors. The machines must go through the field art different times as blueberries do not ripen at the same time. Bins of harvested blueberries are rushed to nearby processing plants where they are dedicated to different market channels.
Blueberries are packed in water or syrup or are prepared into shelf stable pie fillings and sauces.
Ripe blueberries are immediately frozen in a number of methods.
â€¢ Individually Quick Frozen Blueberries (IQF), are flash frozen at extremely low temperatures. This gives the blueberry an individual fruit identity. This product is packed into cello bags for the retail market or else packed in poly lined cardboard containers for the food industry. (ie baking confectionery, ice creams.)
â€¢ Block Frozen Blueberries (BQF). Blueberries are placed in containers and then are frozen. This product is used for food processing where fruit identity is not required.
Fresh or frozen blueberries are dehydrated in a number of methods to produce a dried fruit for the retail snack and also food processing industry.
â€¢ Dried Blueberries. Fresh or frozen blueberries re dehydrated with hot air to reduce the moisture level to around 18%. Most dried blueberries are first infused with a sugar solution to give it more weight and pliability.
â€¢ Osmoticaly Dried Blueberries. Blueberries are infused with a syrup to push out moisture in what is called an osmotic dehydration process. The product is shelf stable and moist.
â€¢ Freeze Dried. Blueberries are quick frozen and dehydrated to get moisture down to around 2-4%. The freeze dried blueberry maintains its shape and color and is ideal for cereals and snack foods.
â€¢ Drum Dried. Blueberries and blueberry juice is dried and tumbled in hot air to produce a blueberry powder.
â€¢ Specialty Products - Blueberries are showing up in more and more specialty food products because they add value and are in consumer demand!
Blueberries are processed into a number of liquid forms for use in beverages and dairy products. This includes single strength blueberry juice, blueberry purees and concentrates of different brix levels.
Courtesy of the US Highbush Blueberry Council www.blueberry.org
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