Elderberries are seeing a resurgence in popularity mostly because foraging has become a trend among foodies. Like any foraged food, there is a good side to elderberries and one that is not as good. The good side is that elderberries are tasty and nutritious. The bad side: using elderberries can be tricky and you run the risk of getting yourself or anyone who consumes your elderberry-based foods sick. Here are some tips on how to use elderberries successfully.
Do cook elderberries before eating them.
When raw, they do look appetizing. Their dark, glossy skin makes them look a lot like grapes or black currants. The appetizing look is deceptive since raw elderberries don’t really have much going for them in terms of taste. They are tart and astringent and offer little complexity. However, you can make them into something enjoyable if you prepare them properly. The fact that they don’t have a lot of flavor aside from being sour is an asset since it allows them to work in a diverse set of applications.
Note also that cooking is not just important for making elderberries tasty, it neutralizes any poison contained in the seeds. You must cook elderberries for no less than 15 minutes before eating them or they can be toxic.
Do store your elderberries properly.
The best way to store elderberries long-term is to freeze them. Of course, you will want to wash them first. If you have elderberries still attached to their stems, freeze them on the stem then pick them off and place them into freezer bags. The reason for freezing them before you remove them from the stems is that they come off much more easily; in fact, they will almost fall off. Unfrozen, the berries might require a little effort to remove.
Drying is a workable alternative to freezing even though it takes longer. To dry your elderberries, just stick them in a food dehydrator. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, spread them out in a sunny spot or on a cookie sheet in an oven set to low heat.
Do use a fork to pull elderberries off their stems.
Place the stems between the tines of the fork and pull.
Do mash elderberries gently.
Mashing the berries is a good way to separate the pulp from the seeds without damaging the exteriors of the seeds. If the seeds are damaged, they will release their toxins. Mash elderberries after boiling them and do it gently so that you don’t break the seeds.
Do combine elderberries with spices and other strong flavors.
Elderberries bring tartness along with some nutritional value, what they don’t bring is a strong or distinctive flavor. The most common applications for elderberries include pies, syrups, and jams all of which can benefit from the addition of spices like cinnamon or citrus zest. Many of the dessert or syrup recipes for elderberry include strong and aromatic flavorings.
Don’t use unripe elderberries.
While ripe elderberries are only toxic if you eat them raw with the seeds, unripe elderberries are always toxic. You can tell when elderberries are ripe by the fact that they are almost black. If a berry is greenish, discard it. To make sure that all of your elderberries are ripe enough to use, place them in a deep bowl or a pot and cover with water. Unripe elderberries will float. Skim the floaters off and discard.