Move Over, Raisins, for Georgia-grown Dried Blueberries

By for CAES News
Move over, raisins. There's a new dried fruit on the supermarket shelves, and it's Georgia-grown. Dried blueberries, or blueberry raisins, can now be found alongside the raisins, cranraisins and figs.ÿ

Dried blueberries are fairly new to the shelf, but not to University of Georgia food scientists. They started working on the idea in the 1970s at the request of the Georgia Blueberry Growers Association.ÿ

"The blueberry growers were worried about what to do with their excess blueberries," remembers Romeo Toledo, a food scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.ÿ

"They wanted to find alternatives to using the berries fresh," he said. "We studied juices made from blueberries and dried blueberries."ÿ

"Granola bars were gaining popularity, and we wanted to hit that market," Toledo said. "For the kinds of uses we envisioned -- cereals and granola bars -- dehydration was the perfect outlet."ÿ

DRIED BLUEBERRIES from Georgia are showing up in all kinds of products -- from baked goods to trail mix. Gerard Krewer, a UGA horticulturist said rabbiteye and other Southern berries process very well and give better yields. They also retain their size well. About a third of Georgia's 6 to 13 million pounds of blueberries are dried.ÿ (Photo courtesy the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)ÿ Toledo's graduate student, Jeff Tucker, was working on processes for drying fragile fruits so he
joined Toledo on the blueberry project.

The scientists first treated the berries with a sugar syrup.

"This draws out the water and reduces the time it takes for the berries to dry," Toledo said. "The
result is a semimoist berry. Today, the main manufacturer in Michigan also uses a fruit concentrate which allows the product to be labeled as 'all fruit.'"

Four years ago, the fledgling dried blueberry industry received a big push when Tucker became
director of research and development for Cherry Central. The Traverse City, Mich., marketing
cooperative makes food products from apples, blueberries, cherries and other fruits. It is the main
processor of dried blueberries.

"Cherry Central had been producing dried blueberries for a couple of years before I joined the
company," Tucker said. "Since then, I have been pushing the product."

Most of the blueberries the Michigan plant uses for drying are actually Southern-grown. "The
percentage of Georgia-grown berries varies from year to year. But we have used up to 100
percent in our dried blueberry division," Tucker said.

"The Southern berries process very well and give us better yields," he said. "They also retain
their size well."

Much of Georgia's blueberry crop is sprayed with gibberellic acid to enhance fruit set. "This has
resulted in superior dried blueberries, since the berries contain fewer seeds," Tucker said.

In the spring of 1996, Georgia began drying its own blueberries when Rustan, Inc., opened in
Alma, Ga. The company dries blueberries, cherries, cranberries and vegetables such as carrots,
onions and potatoes.

The vegetables are often used for dry soup mixes. Last year, Rustan processed more than 40,000
pounds of dried blueberries, too. The berries were used in commercial bakeries and packaged
trail mixes.

UGA Extension Service horticulturist Gerard Krewer said about one-third of the blueberries
grown in Georgia become dried blueberries.

"The beauty of it is that the process uses a lot of berries," Krewer said. "It takes about three
pounds of fresh berries to make one pound of dried blueberries."

Georgia blueberry growers produce 6 million to 13 million pounds of blueberries each year.
Krewer figures the state has 4,000 acres of bearing blueberries and about 400 acres of younger,
nonbearing plants.

The state ranks fourth behind Michigan, New Jersey and Oregon in U.S. cultivated blueberry

Dried blueberries, which have no fat, cholesterol or sodium, are most often used in cereal
products, cake mixes, pastry products, granola bars and dried fruit mixes.

"You commonly find them now as an airline snack mixed with dried cherries and raisins,"
Tucker said. "They also perform well in baked goods, especially bagels, because baked goods are
kneaded and frozen fruit won't hold up."

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.