Honeyberry varieties developed in the U.S. state of Arkansas are now available to growers throughout the world, after a deal was made with a Canadian nursery to produce tissue-cultured plants on a large-scale.
The elongated blue berries are produced by the blue honeysuckle bush, a plant in the Lonicera, or honeysuckle, family of plants, and are popular in countries like Russia and Japan.
The varieties were developed by Russian-born Lidia Delafield after she moved to the U.S. almost a decade ago and created the company Berries Unlimited.
Delafield owns a 20-acre farm in Prairie Grove, shipping plants across the U.S., but due to demand far outweighing supply, an agreement was made with British Columbia-based AgriForest Bio-Technologies.
The purpose of the deal with AgriForest is not just to increase volumes and sell to growers worldwide, but also to produce tissue cultured plants that are virus indexed.
The firm reportedly sold 100,000 plants during their first week on the market.
Speaking to www.freshfruitportal.com, Delafield said the honeyberry taste was hard to describe, with shapes and flavors varying greatly depending on the variety.
“It’s a unique but very delicious taste. Some have a very light hint of strawberry, while others have a light bitter taste similar to tonic water,” she said.
“These berries are very strange because it came from five different varieties, and they all have completely different tastes and shapes – not like blueberries, which are all round or round and a little bit flat.
“Honeyberries can be shaped like an icicle, oval round, cylindrical, with sharp ends, etcetera.”
Delafield, who worked at the Russian Academy of Sciences prior to moving to the U.S., has over recent years been developing new varieties in her Arkansas laboratory.
She considers her Happy Giant variety to be the ultimate honeyberry. The plant has huge berries that are about one inch in size with a sweet, tangy taste.
Other varieties she has developed are named the Giants Heart, Blue Mountain, Blue Heaven, Blue Storm and Blue Banana. Delafield described the latter as a ‘very sweet variety with a sophisticated flavor’.
Honeyberries are best suited to cool climates and have been shown to be able to handle temperatures of -7°C even during the bloom stage, meaning they can survive if late frosts hit.
The fast-growing plant does not have to be pruned and is resistant to pests and diseases, enabling it to be grown organically with relative ease.
Delafield also said the fruit was harvested before other berries – around a couple of weeks before the earliest strawberries.
She said this would be a key factor in helping to boost consumption, as there would be limited competition with other summer fruits.
Another aspect is the fruit’s impressive nutritional content, which led it to be considered a superfruit.
“It is a great source of vitamins and nutrients, which are very healthy for you hearth, blood flow and general well-being,” Delafield said.
They have also been shown to fight free radicals in the body, and have a high content of anthocyanins, which include anti-inflammatory properties and work to inhibit cancer cells and boost cardiovascular health.
In addition to the fruit’s early harvest time and numerous health benefits, Delafield explained honeyberries were hugely versatile and could be used in a range of culinary applications.
Possible uses include jams, jellies, juice, wine, gin or syrup, and the contract with AgriForest opens up the market to the fruit being more widely distributed through these products in grocery stores.
Delafield said that one of her goals for the future was to increase the fruit’s shelf life, which she said was short at the moment.
Billion dollar market potential
Expectations are high for the long-term market potential of the relatively unknown fruit, with one industry representative predicting the sector would rapidly grow over the coming decades.
Logie Cassells, who owns leading honeyberry orchard design and technology solution company LoveHoneyberry, believed the fruit’s market value could hit the US$1 billion mark.
Cassells, who first put Agriforest in contact with Delafield in 2010, said the fruit had a tannin and mineral structure similar to grapes, meaning it could be used to make high quality alcohol.
“I think the biggest short term markets for the berry are organic frozen berries being, driven by the smoothie health market, and alcohol – be it Champagne or gin,” he said.
“Fresh honeyberries are delicious, but I see better and higher margin growth in the rapidly expanding organic frozen fruit market.”
Asked whether it may be a challenge to boost consumer awareness of a relatively unknown fruit in the U.S., Cassells said consumer tests had so far proved very positive.
“There are many successful examples of new fruits being readily accepted by ever health conscious consumers,” he said.
“It takes time but the berry is off to a good start with numerous award-winning products already available on the market.”