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What it is: Aronia berry, also known as chokeberry.
Where it’s grown: The plant is native to the Great Lakes region, and grows well here. It’s best known as a hardy landscaping plant that in recent years is gaining interest as a food producer.
“A lot of people don’t realize you can eat the berries,” said Dale Secher of Oregon’s Carandale Farm, who grows them as part of the uncommon fruit project with UW-Madison’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. He and his wife, Cindy, sell them fresh.
In Brooklyn, Bellbrook Berry Farm became the state’s first commercial aronia operation in 2006. The farm grows 11 acres of berries that are then packaged and sold frozen. The farm also sells the aronia plants.
Taste: The berries are sour. They look like blueberries but the taste is much different, as is the texture. The difference is great enough that Dale and Cindy Secher have a sign at the Dane County Farmers’ Market that says, “Not blueberries.”
The Sechers describe the taste like a dry red wine, but say the flavor is offset when it’s used with other fruits, juices or dairy.
William O’Brien of Bellbrook Farm notices a change when the berries freeze, and says he can’t explain it.
“Once it’s been frozen, it’s a totally different flavor,” he said. “It’s sweeter and tangier.”
How it’s used: Because the berries taste better used with dairy or frozen, they are a popular smoothie ingredient, O’Brien said. He also likes to swap them out for raisins in oatmeal raisin cookies. The Sechers like to use them for pies and crisps and also know of their use in meat sauces. The juices can be used in many ways — added to other juices, as well as to alcoholic beverages.
Season: Aronia arrive later than most berries in Wisconsin, with a harvest that begins in mid- to late August. If refrigerated, Dale Secher said, they’ll store longer than raspberries or strawberries.
Nutrition: Aronia proponents tout their strong antioxidants, saying they have three times the antioxidants of blueberries.
Where to buy: Carandale Farm berries are available fresh at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, Metcalfe’s Market and the Willy Street Co-op. Bellbrook’s frozen berries are available at Willy Street Co-op, Metcalfe’s Market, Hy-Vee in Fitchburg, the Jenifer Street Market, Trillium Co-op in Mount Horeb and Yahara Grocery Co-op in Stoughton.
Sources: Carandale Farm, Bellbrook Berry Farm