Barberries: How To Use This Brilliant Fruit In The Kitchen

In the past, when lemons were not readily available, barberries were an ideal substitute. They added a kick of citrusy flavor to all those dishes that needed an extra boost of brightness. Read on to learn more about these versatile and vibrant berries.

What are Barberries

Barberries or Berberis vulgaris are long red berries that grow on small barberry shrubs, which have branches that bloom with yellow flowers. The use of barberries dates back many centuries ago owing to their immense popularity in traditional medicine. Barberries have a strong tart flavor that makes them a perfect candidate for savory and sweet dishes. 

Barberries usually grow in bunches on the barberry shrub and the fruit can grow up to half an inch long. Once ripe, these berries turn bright red and develop a strong distinctive taste. Although Barberries are grown in various parts of the world like North Africa, Europe, the United States, and Canada, this fruit originates from Iran. These berries are known as “Zereshk” in their local language and are an important component in traditional Iranian dishes. Moreover, fresh barberries are also a popular snack in local markets.

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Types of Barberries

There are around 500 different types of plants in the Barberry family and nearly all of these plants produce edible berries. Some of the common varieties include the European barberry (most common), the Oregon grape (found in Pacific Northeast), the American Barberry (found in North America), and the Japanese Barberry (an ornamental variety). 

Flavor of Barberries

Barberries have a sour tart flavor with a sweet undertone that is somewhat similar to cranberries. The taste also depends on the variety, the American variety is sweeter compared to the European variety. 

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Benefits of Barberries

Barberries are rich in berberine, an alkaloid compound that functions as an antioxidant that can prevent a variety of diseases. Berberine helps in managing diabetes, preventing cancer, treating diarrhea, and curing dental diseases. Furthermore, barberries are low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals which is backed up by different scientific studies. 

While berberine does have its benefits, it can interact with certain medicines and cause side effects. Therefore it is advisable to consult a doctor before consuming any barberry fruit or product. 

Uses of Barberries

Due to their unique flavor, barberries are used in a variety of dishes ranging from stews to salads to oatmeals and various rice dishes. Zereshk polo, for instance, is a classic Persian dish featuring chicken served over Polo, a saffron rice dish layered with barberries, golden fried onions, and fried nuts. In some parts of the world, dried barberries are used to give a kick of tanginess to bread and meatloaf. 

These berries also complement different meat types, especially chicken, beef, and pork. You can substitute cranberries with the barberries in our meaty recipes for Crispy Chicken Breast and Cranberry Orange Chicken.  

While barberries are used as a garnish for many tarts, scones, muffins, and pastries, barberry extract is leveraged into jams and jellies. It is also used as a flavoring agent in candies and drinks. If you’re looking out for a dessert recipe to prepare with barberries, try swapping barberries in our recipe for Cranberry Baked Brie, for a sour-sweet kick.

Feature Image:  Ute Friesen from Pixabay 

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