A tart, healthy addition to your plate
Whether harvested in Siberia or Teesdale, Ont., sea buckthorn berries pack a powerful punch.
“It’s like grapefruit on steroids,” says Paul Sawtell, whose 100km Foods distributes the glowing orange berries to a growing number of local chefs.
“They’re super unique and available frozen year-round,” says Sawtell, whose sales have jumped from $550 to $10,000 in just three years.
Ontario’s largest growers, Marlene Wynnyk and her husband, have spent 15 years growing and promoting the ancient berry’s health benefits at their Healing Arc orchard near Wingham, Ont.
The “Citrus of the North” is off the charts in vitamins A and C (eat just eight berries a day) and rich in antioxidants and omega fatty acids.
In mid-August, their 3.2 hectares of bright orange berries ripen in dense clusters. Thorns make harvesting difficult, but Wynnyk says the trees don’t require pesticides or herbicides, they can handle temperatures from 40 C to minus 40 C and they add nitrogen to the soil. Chefs at lofty Canoe restaurant have been using the tangy berry for years to add a bright pop to fall and winter menus.
“With our focus on Canadian ingredients, we don’t use tropical fruit,” Chef de cuisine Coulson Armstrong says. “But sea buckthorn gives us a burst of flavour and acidity similar to passion fruit.”
To tone down the berry’s extreme tartness, Armstrong pickles them in champagne vinegar, or adds sweetened juice to his Northern Crush cocktail. Another enthusiast is Victor De Guzman, executive chef at the Rosedale Golf Club, who whisks the berries in salad dressing and reduces them to a sauce for maple-glazed duck breast.
“They create drama on the plate,” says Albert Ponzo, executive chef at Le Sélect Bistro, who uses sea buckthorn to cut the richness of grilled foie gras.
Ryan de Leon, chef de cuisine at Quatrefoil in Dundas, Ont., purées the berries for dessert, spooning house-made sea buckthorn jam into macarons and meringue “snowballs.”
Wynnyk’s sister, retired restaurateur Sandra Rae, is making jam and jelly for Christmas gifts, while Wynnyk sells juice and skin cream.
Though she estimates just 2 per cent of Canadians know about her golden berry, “people recognize the passion we have for it,” she says. “It’s not a fad.” Buy and store
Look for frozen sea buckthorn berries at stores that cater to Eastern Europeans. Yummy Market sells 908-gram bags of berries from Lithuania for an amazing $8.99.
Quebec distributor Atelier No16 ships two-kilogram bags of frozen berries from Ferme les Petites Ecores, which also makes a scrumptious sea buckthorn-apple butter.
In August, the public is invited to the Healing Arc near Wingham, Ont., to harvest and take home fresh and frozen berries, fresh juice, jam and skin care products.
Chefs can order frozen berries through local distributors Hilite Fine Foods and 100km Foods.
Natural food stores carry sea buckthorn capsules, juice and cosmetics.
If using as a garnish, keep berries frozen until just before use as they soften quickly. Prep
This super-tart berry requires sweetening. Think honey, maple syrup or loads of white sugar.
The hard flat seeds can also be a problem.
You hardly notice them in the whole berries, but if using in jam or sauces, it’s best to strain them out and discard.
After juicing the berries, chef Sandra Rae dries and grinds the pulp for meatballs, granola, quick breads and muffins. Serve
Use sea buckthorn berries instead of lemon in marinades and vinaigrettes.
Add pectin to make beautiful jams and jellies.
To tame their tartness, preserve whole berries in honey or maple syrup and spoon over yogurt and granola.
The berries pair well with duck, pork, chicken and fish.
Rae marinates salmon for an hour in crushed berries, bakes the fish and finishes it with a maple-butter glaze and a few whole berries.
Hibiscus Café in Kensington Market makes a very popular sea buckthorn ice cream.
For smoothies, drop 1/4 cup (60 mL) stemmed whole berries into the blender with 1/4 cup (60 mL) water and buzz to break up seeds before adding remaining ingredients.
Sea Buckthorn Jellies
Star Tested Inspired by chef Ryan de Leon of Quatrefoil, these sweet-tart jellies can be served with cheese or after dessert. 2 cups (500 mL) sea buckthorn berries, fresh or frozen 1 cup (250 mL) water 11/2 cups (375 mL) granulated sugar 1/4 cup (60 mL) unsweetened applesauce 2 tbsp (30 mL) or 2 packets powdered gelatin Line an 8x8-inch (20x20 cm) cake pan with plastic wrap and spray lightly with cooking spray.
Place berries and water in a heavy saucepan.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer about 15 minutes, until soft. Transfer berry mixture to a fine sieve placed over a bowl.
Press down on the pulp and seeds with a wooden spoon to release the juice. You should have about 1 cup (250 mL) thick juice. Discard pulp.
Pour juice into the saucepan. Stir in sugar and applesauce. Cook on low heat about 10 minutes, stirring, until sugar melts. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup (125 mL) water. Let sit 5 minutes, until soft. Whisk into warm juice mixture then pour into prepared pan.
Refrigerate three hours or overnight, until firm. Cut into cubes and serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers.
Makes 6 servings.
Sea buckthorn berries, which have a flavour and acidity similar to passion fruit, form the base of these tart jellies.
Sea buckthorn berries offer a tart burst of flavour.