Did you know that cranberries and bilberries are two different fruits? Often confused, these two little red berries have many differences. These cousins of the heather family have a variety of tastes, origins, and shapes to explore.
To better separate these little red berries, Patience Fruit & Co explains the difference between the cranberry and the bilberry.
Two similar yet distinct berries!
These two red berries are confused for a reason: they both originate from the Vaccinioideae subfamily of the Ericaceae family. They grow on small shrubs that produce red berries. Both are perennial.
Although they look alike, the cranberry and the bilberry are distinguished by their leaves, their fruits, and their taste!
Cranberries and bilberries: 4 differences
To learn to distinguish the two plants, here are the primary features that differ between them:
While the cranberry is mainly grown in North America, the bilberry can be found mostly in the mountainous regions of Europe.
In its wild state, the cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccos or Vaccinium macrocarpon, grows in marshy, acidic soil. It can be found in peat bogs in cold regions. Indeed, the northern regions in America are more favorable to the cranberry cultivation because of the cold winter which allows the plants to rest (dormancy) and to reduce the presence of insects and diseases which are more prolific in southern regions.
The bilberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, can be found in the tundra, plains, and mountains. In its wild state, it grows in leafy and coniferous underbrush, and sometimes in peat bogs. This bush requires a dry and cold climate, which is why it is mainly found in Scandinavian countries.
2. Shrubs and leaves
The bilberry can be recognized by its bushes measuring around 5 to 40 centimetres. The leaves have a waxy appearance and are thick, rounded, and pointed at the tip. They are dark green on the front and light green on the inside.
The cranberry grows as a ligneous plant up to 30 cm. Its small leaves are long and pointy. They are green on the outside and white on the inside.
3. Flowers and fruits
The flowering period of the cranberry runs from end of June to July. Its flowers can be recognized by their oval shapes and pinkish colours. The bilberry shrub flowers from May to June, and its flowers are white and red and come in bunches.
With respect to the fruit, cranberries and bilberries are distinguished first of all by their size. In effect, the cranberry is twice as large as the bilberry. In addition, the fruits don’t grow in the same way. The bilberry grows in bunches, while the cranberry fruits are single, numbering from 1 to 4 on the fruiting stems.
Bilberries ripen from August to September, and the fruits are round, shiny, and juicy. The berry has a sweet-and-sour, slightly bitter taste.
For its part, the cranberry harvest generally takes place from late September to late October. The fruit is bright red and can be recognized by its firm texture. Its taste is tart and tangy.
4. Conservation and consumption
Fresh bilberries keep for several weeks in the fridge as is, pureed, or in water. For longer conservation, you can dry them, freeze them, or turn them into jam.
In cooking, the bilberry can be used as an accompaniment to meat or in sweet dishes (in oatmeal, pastries, juice, or syrup).
Fresh cranberries keep very well in the fridge (several weeks or even several months), or they can be frozen. They can be enjoyed fresh, dried, pureed, or juiced, and there are many ways to prepare them! Check out our cranberry recipes to explore their multiple uses in cooking.
Discover organic cranberries grown with Patience
Now you know the major differences between the cranberry and the bilberry. As you can see, the local version is the cranberry! Patience Fruit & Co lets you discover these delicious, versatile berries grown in Quebec. Explore our selection of fresh or dried cranberries and cranberry juices to enjoy them in all their forms.