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Commercial Production of Chokeberry News


Dr. Eldon Everhart*, has this to say of Aronia (chokeberry):

There’s a new superfood in town.  Superfoods have been making news around the world, recommended by doctors and nutritionists as important additions to a healthy diet.  Acai is a berry that has been in the headlines, but research reveals that it takes a backseat to a berry called aronia….
Each tiny berry of Aronia melanocarpa contains a powerhouse of antioxidants.  Studies done in the US and around the world indicate that the aronia berry can benefit cardiovascular health, the digestive system, liver health, and muscle recovery after workouts.  With this laundry list of benefits, you might expect that people would be eating aronia by the bowlful….
With the current focus on superfoods, scientists started to take a closer look at the aronia berry.  What researchers found is a berry that knocks acai from its pedestal.  Aronia has an intense concentration of anthocyanins, a natural compound that not only gives the fruit its dark color, but also many of its health benefits….

This shrub is adaptable and easy-to-grow.  Black chokeberry is also a Midwest native.  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.

Iowa State Extension Horticulture Specialist Dr. Eldon Everhart, is helping establish production and develop aronia markets.  Dr. Everhart says the berries are not sour.  The dry, puckering taste comes instead from high tannins.  The trick, he said, is to freeze the berries before use to break down the tannins.
Everhart says a mature aronia shrub can produce a whopping 30 pounds of berries and you can harvest anytime September to November.  There’s no need to worry about harvesting before frost, which won’t harm the berries.
A variety called Viking, which can grow about six to eight feet tall and wide, is recommended for its large, plentiful berries.  If your space is limited, try compact Autumn Magic or dwarf Iroquois Beauty.  All are self-pollinating, producing berries even if you have room for only a single plant.

*Dr. Eldon Everhart, Owner of Everhart Horticulture Consulting (formerly Horticulture Specialist with Iowa State University)



Aronia A New Crop for the Midwest
By Eldon Everhart*

Why is aronia in the news?
Aronia berries contain very high levels of antioxidants. Aronia melanocarpa is a perennial, deciduous, self-supporting shrub, native to the eastern half of the United States. Its native range extends into Canada and south into Georgia, and includes only Winneshiek County in Iowa. Aronia is cold hardy to at least USDA Zone 3 (-40 F). The cold tolerant blooms open in late spring and avoid most frosts. The plants will grow on various soils from poorly drained to well-drained sites.

Where is aronia grown commercially?
Early in the 20th century, aronia was introduced in Eastern Europe where high quality, large fruited cultivars were selected. Aronia is now grown on thousands of acres in Eastern Europe. The popularity of aronia is skyrocketing in the United States. The aronia berry industry is still in the early stages of development. Commercial plantations are mostly being planted in the Midwest.

Are all aronia cultivars the same?
‘Autumn Magic’ and ‘Iriquois 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 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.

How are aronia berries harvested and used?
The round, pea-sized, violet-black berries of Aronia melanocarpa hang in clusters of up to 12 berries. Aronia berries are ready to harvest by hand or with a mechanical harvester in mid August to early September. Aronia berries can be eaten fresh off the bush or used in bread, muffins, pies, cookies and other baked goods. They can be used to make tea, smoothies, juice, and aronia wine. Aronia fruit or fruit juice can be used to make jams, jellies, syrup, candy, salsa, barbeque sauce, and to flavor and color yogurt, sorbet, ice cream, milk, and other products.

What do they taste like?
Taste is difficult to describe and not all things taste the same to all people. Aronia berries have a distinctive, pleasant flavor. Astringency is the sensation that most people notice first. The berries will make your mouth pucker. This dry mouth feeling is caused by chemicals known as tannins. Tannins make dry wines dry. Many people like that dry, mouth puckering quality of dry wines and aronia berries. Freezing reduces the astringency and makes it easier to extract the juice. When fully ripe, aronia berries have a sugar content as high as grapes or sweet cherries. They have a high acid content (low pH) but are not sour when fully ripe.

Why grow aronia?
They do not need trellising, spraying, or bird netting. Most insect pests, diseases, and other “critters” leave them alone. Deer and Japanese beetles are a problem in some areas. Aronia plants are easy to grow and maintain. You must mow between the rows and harvest the berries. An aronia business can be profitable. Annual returns per acre can be over $8,000 on the wholesale market and $100,000 on the retail market.

Press release received April 2009
NP Nutra has tested over 100 different superfruit powders over the last year, including the most popular ones from other manufacturers. The results obtained might surprise you. It wasn't one of the normally talked about superfruits which won top honors. NP Nutra's water soluble Aronia 4:1 extract got the highest ORAC score at a whopping 4738 umoleTe/g, which is more than double of virtually all other superfruit powders. Aronia is also known as chokeberry and has a very attractive dark purple color. Aronia is also high in anthocyanins, antioxidants, flavonoids, phenolic acid, trace minerals and vitamin C.

*Dr. Eldon Everhart, Owner of Everhart Horticulture Consulting (formerly Horticulture Specialist with Iowa State University)



From the Fort Dodge, Iowa Messenger  POSTED: September 7, 2008  By RENAE VANDER SCHAAF, Messenger staff writer

MAGNOLIA - Dr. Eldon Everhart*, Iowa State University field specialist in horticulture, was kept very busy at the Farm Progress Show in rural Boone last week, answering questions about what could be Iowa's next cash crop.

Aronia berries.

A deciduous shrub, Aronia berry has the genus name of Aronia melanocarpa. Although sometimes called black chokeberry, it is not chokecherry, which is the genus Prunus.

Native to the eastern U.S. and Iowa, Aronia was well known to Native Americans and early settlers. Nowadays, it is only found in one county in northeastern Iowa.

Early in the 20th century, it was introduced to Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, where it was developed into a commercial fruit.

Improved cultivars selected in Russia were reintroduced into this country in the last 10 years. Aronia is well suited to organic fruit production and ornamental landscape plantings in Iowa.

Resurging interest in Aronia berries has come about because of its health benefits and as a natural organic food coloring. The dark pigment is very stable and does not turn brown.

It belongs to that group of purple berries that has been making news in today's nutrition world. Higher in antioxidants than blackberries, blueberries, cranberries and many other berries that are grown commercially in the U.S., it fights cancer and heart disease.

Capable of producing in dry or wet years, disease and insect resistant, the berry appears to be the right crop for today's farmer.

Iowa currently has 25 Aronia berry growers and the list is growing. This gem of a berry may have remained lost if it weren't for Vaughn and Cindy Pittz.

Attending a food show in New Orleans, Vaughn Pittz was captivated by what he saw, heard and tasted. He said he convinced his wife that this was the right niche for them.

Feeling more like pioneers than farmers, the Pittzes immersed themselves into learning more.

Beginning with just over 200 bushes in 1995, the plantation now boasts over 13,000 shrubs. The Pittzes can expect to harvest 20-35 pound per mature plant.

"It's a bumper harvest this year," says Cindy Pittz. "Because of weather, the harvest is running a few weeks late." The Pittzes measure the Brix number of the berries to know when to harvest. When berries are fully ripe they are delicious fresh picked from the plant.

The Pittzes have worked with an area nursery to propagate plants. They are also dedicated to helping others grow the Aronia berry.

The Pittzes have developed a multitude of products from the berries. Their unpasturized Aronia juice is bottled by a local apple orchard owner in plastic jugs made from Iowa corn.

Aronia berries also make a delicious jelly, ice cream and yogurt flavoring, barbecue sauce and tea, they said.

*Dr. Eldon Everhart, Owner of Everhart Horticulture Consulting (formerly Horticulture Specialist with Iowa State University)