Cranberries are the ultimate autumnal berry and their bright red appearance on the shelves gets many in the mood for Thanksgiving and Christmas beyond it. Cranberries are used by the pound for every Thanksgiving dinner, so many people find themselves loading the shopping cart for big batches of cranberry sauce.
Cranberries are one of only three berries native to North America, which explains their prominent role in our fall and winter festivals (the others are blueberries and Concord grapes). Whether you’re slathering turkey in cranberry sauce or chowing down on cranberry pie for desert, these little red berries become ubiquitous during the season.
As a bonus, they’re incredibly healthy! Packed with antioxidants and as a source of the immune-system boosting vitamin C, these little red berries can help you fight off the colds and flus that the winter brings.
If you end up in cranberry overload you’ll be wondering how long they last. It’s a sad sight to open your fridge and see shrivelled up cranberries.
(Also Read: Meyer Lemon, Fresh Cranberry & Walnut Scones)
How Long Do Cranberries Last?
If you’re used to purchasing other berries such as blueberries or raspberries, you will expect cranberries to have a lifespan of just a few days. So it will come as a pleasant surprise to learn that cranberries are amongst the hardiest of berries. Thanks to a tougher outer skin, you can expect your cranberries to last for up to four weeks if you’re storing them correctly.
Cranberry products have exploded across the shelves in recent years and cranberries themselves can be bought fresh, frozen, canned and dried. We’ll take a look at how long you can expect your cranberries to last in their various forms.
As mentioned, fresh cranberries can be expected to last three to four weeks if you store them correctly. After two weeks you may notice that some of the cranberries begin to appear bruised, softened or broken – you can discard any spoiled cranberries and keep the rest. After four weeks your cranberries are going to show the signs of spoilage and they should be discarded.
If you’re baking with cranberries then you might keep a supply of dried cranberries on hand. These little cranberry nuggets are perfect when sprinkled into the muffin mixture or brewed into your oatmeal for a seasonal kick.
Most dried cranberries you’ll encounter have been freeze dried – often with sugar or sweeteners added in the process to soften the cranberries’ natural bitterness. Dried cranberries will usually have a best-by date of six to twelve months in the future, but stored correctly they can last for up to eighteen months as these berries are perfectly preserved.
Sometimes you’ll find cranberries that have been frozen to preserve their freshness, rather than dried. Whilst dried cranberries often have a lot of sugar added, frozen cranberries tend to have nothing added during the process of preservation – this can make them a healthier option. Frozen cranberries will be great for making a big batch of cranberry sauce.
You can expect frozen cranberries to last for eight to twelve months in your freezer – that means you can hide them away til next Thanksgiving, if you wish!
How To Store Cranberries
Fresh cranberries will last their longest in the refrigerator, so when you return home from the store you’ll need to stash them away.
Keeping your cranberries out of the air that circulates in the fridge is essential. If your cranberries came in plastic packaging from the store, that’ll do the job. Remember to reseal it after each use – or shift the cranberries to a ziplock freezer bag that makes resealing easy.
If you picked up fresh cranberries at the farmers’ market they might come in a cute brown paper bag. This bag won’t protect your cranberries from air and moisture effectively, so swap it out for a resealable plastic container.
Like other dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas, dried cranberries can live in your pantry. A cool, dry environment is adequate to preserve these cranberries for around a year to eighteen months. Ensure that you keep the bag sealed between uses and your cranberries will be good till next Christmas.
Can You Freeze Them?
If you’ve been gripped by the cranberry craze that comes around each fall you might have overbought cranberries at the store or the farmers’ market. We’re familiar with seeing frozen cranberries in the freezer section at the store, so you might wonder if you can freeze your fresh cranberries.
The answer is yes, you can easily freeze your cranberries! Simply transfer them to a ziplock plastic bag and stash them away. Picking out any cranberries that have started to turn will ensure that when it comes time to defrost your berries you’ll have a good batch.
When it comes time to use your cranberries (maybe next Thanksgiving has rolled around) you can cook these berries from frozen. I wouldn’t recommend defrosting your berries for use as a fresh ingredient in salads as they’ll often end up pretty soggy, but there are so many ways to use frozen cranberries from sauces to smoothies.
Cranberries are intimately connected to our favourite holidays and getting into the seasonal spirit by buying big batches of berries is always exciting. Now you know how long your cranberries will last and how to store them for maximum freshness you can go cranberry crazy.
How To Tell If Cranberries Have Gone Bad
You don’t want to end up eating a bad cranberry! Cranberries already have a puckeringly tart taste and this will intensify as they age – a few bad cranberries can turn your sweet cranberry sauce into a bitter nightmare!
Let’s look at a few ways for you to tell if your fresh cranberries have gone bad. First, it’s essential to know what a fresh cranberry should look like. Cranberries, in their prime, will have a firm and shiny skin, and the colour should be a rosy red, possibly with a yellow tinge. The skin should be firm to the touch.
Signs that Cranberries Have Gone Bad
The main indication that your cranberries are no longer good to eat is that the berries have visibly changed. You should be able to tell from inspecting your berries if they’ve gone bad.
The color of your berries will darken as they age and if they’ve gone more purple or black than classic cranberry-red then you’ll know they have passed their best. Sometimes the whole berry won’t change color but you’ll see distinct dark spots across the skin. Toss these bad berries out.
The texture of the skin of your cranberries will also undergo changes as it goes bad. The skin should be firm and glossy – if it loses its sheen, it’s on the turn. If your cranberries are drying out, the skin will begin to wrinkle. These cranberries are going bad.
Mold can sprout amongst your cranberries and this is a sure sign that the batch has got to go. If you’ve kept your cranberries for more than a couple of weeks you’ll want to inspect the container for signs of mold – furry growths in grey, brown, green and blue. Even a small amount of mold can contaminate your whole batch as toxic spores come off the growth. If you find just a bit of mold, all the berries should be considered bad.
The Smell Test
Fresh cranberries won’t offer much of an aroma as their waxy skin keeps the flavors in. If your cranberries have begun to pong, you should treat them as very much suspect. A sour, acrid smell will be a sure sign of spoilage in your cranberries. Trust your instincts and toss your berries if you’re unsure.
As dried cranberries age their appearance won’t change so it can be tricky to tell if they’ve spoiled. Mold can eventually take hold even in this dry environment, so that’s the number one thing to check for. Use the age of your dried cranberries as a further guide – if they’ve been lingering in your pantry for eighteen months it’s time they went in the trash.
Cranberries fresh and dried can be long lasting – but only if you store them correctly. Let’s take a look at optimal cranberry storage to keep your berries at their best.