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Aronia touted for health benefits

By MICHEL ELBEN
Staff Reporter

DOVER, Del. — Aronia, also known as chokeberry, has a long tradition in European and North American folk medicine.
“Because of the health benefits it offers, it’s making a comeback,” said Sudeep A. Mathew, Dorchester County University of Maryland Extension agent at the Women in Ag Conference on Jan. 26.
Originally used for the deep purple pigment, aronia was also commonly harvested in different parts of Europe to produce fruit syrup, fruit juice, soft spreads, fruit jellies and tea.
The tea is usually blended with other more flavorful ingredients including black currant.
Mathew said aronia is a wild, native fruit in North America.
“You can grow it here as black chokeberry or red ornamental,” he said.
Mathew said North Americans have long used it as an ornamental. Its nutritional value was not appreciated until recently, he said.
“Aronia is a berry but is more closely related to an apple,” said Mathew. “It’s a fruit to watch.”
Due to the somewhat tart taste of the fruit, there has been only limited use in industrial juice production but application in blended juices - with apple, pear or black currant berries - is winning more consumer approval, Mathew said.
“Aronia has five times the antioxidants of blueberries and cranberries,” he said.
Aronia berries are also used for liqueur and spirit production as well as ingredients in fruit wines.
Mathew said aronia extracts are being developed as dietary supplements and in the search for answers in the prevention of degenerative diseases, aronia has attracted the attention of scientists and consumers. Studies are showing that aronia can benefit coronary arteries and may decrease the onset of diabetes.
“It’s a super fruit,” said Mathew. “They could just take off. Scientifically, it has the merit.”
A series of papers on aronia by the peer-reviewed food science journal Agric Food Chem investigated the antioxidant properties of aronia juice and aronia extract. According to the research, fresh aronia berries possess the highest antioxidant capacity among berries and other fruits.
Aronia can positively influence several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, according to The Journal of Food Biochemistry. In an experimental model of hyperlipidaemia in rats, aronia fruit juice stalled the dietary-induced elevation of plasma total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and plasma lipids.
In men with a mild hypercholesterolemia, six weeks of regular chokeberry juice drinking resulted in a significant decrease in serum total cholesterol; LDL cholesterol and triglyceride level whereas the HDL2 cholesterol level was increased.
In a human intervention study, published in the Folia Medica Journal, the daily intake of 200 milliliters of aronia juice over a period of three months was effective in lowering fasting glucose levels in patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes.
“Aronia can be a great way to diversify your operation,” Mathew said.
Two varieties are currently available, Mathew said. Nero and Viking are excellent for making wine and many people like the dry wine that aronia berries produce.
“Aronia can be grown in your vineyard for fruit wine,” he said. “You could also include products like salsa, jelly, or BBQ sauce - we’ve even made ice cream.”
Mathew said the crop cross-pollinates, and can be a very carefree and hardy plant.
Aronia grows in a shrub and does not require trellising, spraying, or bird netting. Aronia plants are easy to grow and maintain. You must mow between the rows and harvest the berries. Aronia comes with little to no pest pressure, Mathew said. Some certified pesticides are available.
“An aronia business can be profitable,” wrote Dr. Eldon Everhart, Iowa State Extension horticulture specialist, for the Green Industry Association. Annual returns per acre can be over $8,000 on the wholesale market and $100,000 on the retail market.
“This shrub is adaptable and easy-to-grow… It thrives in full sun or partial shade, and in wet or dry soils. There has been a new demand for aronia berries because of their high antioxidant content that exceeds wonder crops like blueberries and elderberries.”
Everhart recommends the Viking variety for large berries. “It can grow about six to eight feet tall and wide,” he wrote.
University of Maine studies show that production can begin in the second year but is rather low at that time. The Nero variety produces the highest yields 9.81 tons/acre from 3-year-old plants and 19.18 tons/acre from 5-year-old plants in research plots.
“You can yield 17 to 25 pounds a year from a mature plant,” Mathew said. Mature aronia plants are seven to nine years old.
Mathew recommends harvesting aronia when Brix (the sugar content of the fruit) is between 15 to 22 percent. Harvesting can occur anytime after 16 Brix, he said.
“Aronia hangs in clusters of up to 12 berries. Aronia berries are ready to harvest by hand or with a mechanical blueberry harvester in mid August to early September,” he said.
“I hope growers will come to accept it and make a profit from it,” Mathew said.