Battle of the Blueberries: Wild vs. Cultivated
Wild blueberries on the left, cultivated on the right.
There has been a bumper crop of blueberries this year, maybe because we had a damp spring, or maybe they've done well in an especially hot summer. Pints of regular blueberries have been selling for $3.50 to $7 in farmers' markets, while street blueberries that come from cart vendors -- sometimes also locally sourced in New Jersey, Massachusetts, or Maine -- have been selling for as little as $2 per pint.
But in the last two weeks, it's been possible to buy wild blueberries, too, in much more limited supply, picked by hand in the Catskills by greenmarket vendors who normally cultivate other berries. Last Friday, I paid $5 for a half-pint of handpicked blueberries, much smaller in circumference, and pretty close to double the price of the more bulbous cultivated berries.
While the cultivated berries have a white "bloom" on surface, wild berries tend to be darker and shinier, with almost no bloom. It was a good time to do a Fork in the Road Battle of the Dishes for the two kinds of blueberries, since the wild ones won't be around for more than a week or two.
We tested the berries with no accompaniment, and here are the tasting notes:
Wild: Average 3/8 of an inch in diameter, near-perfect sphere. Exhibit an almost mineral flavor, sweetness (on a scale of 1 to 10): 6. Purplish interior. Great subtlety and depth of flavor, though slightly gritty inside.
Cultivated: Average 5/8 of an inch in diameter, flattened, spare-tire appearance. White, jelly-like interior, sour-sweet flavor, sweetness (on a scale of 1 to 10): 5. Pleasantly textured, smooth interior, but little depth of flavor.
We also tested the blueberries on Madagascar vanilla gelato.
Next: The winner is ...
Nothing better than fresh blueberries over vanilla gelato.
The wild blueberries make a perfect hand fruit, with as much flavor packed into each smaller berry as into the larger cultivated berries. They get lost in the sweet vanilla flavor of the gelato, however, and the large berries, with their size and tartness, make a better topping for frozen desserts.
Conclusion: Wild blueberries are best eaten by themselves, one at a time, or perhaps in a salad, where the sweetness might make a nice contrast with a tart vinaigrette.
Cultivated blueberries make great sundaes, and are good in a fruit salad, but are without the depth of flavor to make them memorable. However, note that the flavor of berries varies tremendously between producers and depends on climate factors as well.
Winner: Wild blueberries.
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