A relatively unknown fruit, called the buffaloberry, could be the world's next big superfruit, according to a new study published in the Journal of Food Science.
Researchers who collected wild buffaloberries in North and South Dakota found the tiny red, slightly sour fruits are rich in lycopene — an antioxidant that appears to lower the risk of certain types of cancers — as well as an acidic compound called methyl-lycopenoate that can be used as a natural food colorant. They are a type of pigment called carotenoids that give fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and carrots their red or orange colors.
The fruits are also a good source of other phenolic antioxidants, the compounds responsible for their tartness and generally thought to play a role in preventing cancer and slowing cellular aging.
According to the study, the lycopene content of buffaloberries tends to be "high in comparison to tomatoes and other commercially available fruit."
The shrub on which the edible berries grow is native to North America and is found growing on many Indian reservations, land that's unsuitable for most other crops. The hardy shrubs can grow pretty much anywhere, even in dry environments with poor soil quality.
These berries have traditionally been eaten by Native American people, but the new findings suggest that it could be a valuable food crop, especially for regions in need of economic development.
Buffaloberries are high enough in sugar to taste good as a fresh or dried fruit (they have the consistency of a raisin when dried) and its acidity makes it desirable for wine makers.
Although commercial production of these fruits is currently very limited, researchers believe that the "potential for growing, consuming, and marketing buffaloberry fruit on and around Midwestern Native American Reservations provides both and economic and nutritional opportunity that should be exploited.