Cowberry or ligonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) is an evergreen shrub in the Vaccinium genus in the heath family.
Cowberries’ red berries’ sourish taste is certainly familiar to anyone who has ever tasted them and it is very likely that a person who has never happened to eat cowberries has some sort of idea of how they taste.
Cowberries are, along with cranberries and blueberries, an important product for one of the leading companies marketing forest and horticultural products for the food and pharmaceutical industries in the Baltic States and Nordic Countries – Berry Group OÜ.
Regardless of its sourish taste, cowberries contain quite a lot of different sugars, most of all the sweetest natural sugar – fructose. As much as 10-12% of sugar can be found in cowberries, but its specific sourish taste comes from organic acids which make up less than 2%, but the citric, malic, oxalic, acetic, benzoic and ursolic acids in cowberries hide the sweetness of the sugars and come forward in the taste. Naturally, in addition to sugars and acids, cowberries also contain proteins and a small amount of fats. In addition to previously mentioned useful substances, cowberries also contain different bioactive glycosides, vitamin C, carotenoids, bioflavonoids, different dietary fibres, tannins and pigments, and minerals.
In the history of the Nordic peoples, cowberries have had an important place in people’s menus just because they are preservable even in the simplest conditions thanks to the high concentration of benzoic acid, and of course they go together well with different dishes. Therefore, cowberries have always been an important source of vitamin for people during winter times. Cowberries are also very useful for treating and preventing rheumatism, arthritic conditions, indigestions and respiratory diseases as they facilitate digestion and intestinal function.
The best-known ingredient of cowberries is benzoic acid. Chemically, benzoic acid is an aromatic carboxylic acid, a colourless, odourless, crystalline compound that dissolves in water. Benzoic acid and its salts have both a killing and inhibiting effect on microbes. The acid under discussion and its sodium, potassium and calcium salts work upon microbes especially efficiently in an acidic environment. This brings the reason why sourish cowberry preservatives are very well preserved. Benzoic acid has an anti-inflammatory effect, which reveals itself when quite large quantities get to the body. For that, at least a couple hundred grams of cowberries should be eaten daily.