Originating in Western Europe, Siberia and Northern Asia, the honeyberry (or haskap berry) is an attractive prospect for UK consumers – and not just because of its vibrant blue-purple colour.
Packed with beneficial nutrients, the seedless fruit can be enjoyed raw or used in a variety of foods and drinks. And with a flavour somewhere between a blueberry and raspberry, it has potential as an exciting early-summer snack.
Better than blueberries?
The nutritional composition of honeyberry compared to other commercially grown fruits looks promising. It has more vitamin C than an orange and almost as much potassium as a banana.
“In terms of phenolic and antioxidant capacities, honeyberries are superior or comparable to well-established superfruits such as blackcurrant or blueberry, which would make it of interest to the processing, fresh fruit market and most of all the consumer,” says Dr Dorota Jarret, fruit breeder at James Hutton Ltd. The company is a subsidiary of the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, where research on different honeyberry varieties is currently being conducted.
Polyphenols and antioxidants have been associated with many health benefits. Anthocyanins in particular have been linked with reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers, and improved neurodegenerative outcomes.
The different honeyberry varieties offer various distinct shapes, sizes and amounts of wax coating, and therefore the juice densities and colours are quite diverse. What makes the honeyberry appealing to many food producers is the vibrant blue-purple colour that is found all the way through the berry.
Paul Wedgwood, head chef at one of Scotland’s top eateries, says that “the honeyberry is an exciting ingredient for chefs.” The co-founder of Wedgwood the Restaurant describes the fruit as “a versatile, local, sustainable berry that is available earlier in the year than we are used to. The different varieties of honeyberry offer a great range of flavours, from blueberry, blackberry and cherry, with some varieties even reported to have notes of grape and kiwi.”
Easy care and cultivation
In terms of production costs and cultivation, the honeyberry is a long-lasting plant (around 20-30 years) and best grown in temperate climates – ideal for UK growers. As long as the soil is of good quality, the plants should require minimal input.
It is also suitable for machine harvest, so no need to worry about potential labour issues as a result of Brexit.
One of the first British growers to plant honeyberry shrubs in the UK is Stewart Arbuckle at his family-run soft fruit farm PA Arbuckle & Sons, near Dundee, Scotland. He notes that, as the honeyberry is harvested around two weeks earlier than the native, outdoor-grown strawberries, the addition of this berry could enhance the start of the UK’s soft-fruit season and offer new opportunities to the sector.
The future's bright (blue)
Supply of honeyberry in Canada and the USA is struggling to keep up with the demand there. The berry is a perfect fit for value-added products such as wine, beer, gins, smoothies, juices and tea as well as salad dressings and condiments. It is also great for adding to dairy products such as ice cream or yogurts, and when dried it can be added to cereals or snack bars.
One slight issue could arise from the fact that the honeyberry has not yet been approved according to EU Novel Food regulations, which has kept new foods off the UK market. However, new EU legislation that came into force on January 1 should help speed up the process of acceptance of novel foods. (Of course, with Brexit on the horizon, it is unclear if this approval will be required at all.)
There's no point beating about the bush: honeyberries are a sweet temptation for British consumers seeking a new, healthy fruit to excite the taste buds.