A new alternative crop is being studied by University of Maryland Extension for organic fruit production. The Black Chokeberry or Aronia, to which it is commonly referred, is an eastern U.S native with a long history of fruit production in Eastern Europe. The Aronia fruit is about the size of a large blueberry and comes in clusters of about 10 to 20, making them relatively easy to pick. A mature plant (about 7 to 8 years) can yield over 15 lbs, but they start fruiting (averaging 3 or 4 lbs of fruit per plant) within two growing seasons after planting.
Interestingly, the fruit itself is more closely related to an apple and is dark purple in color. The color is attributed to high concentrations of flavonoids including anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins. Due to health-promoting effects, there is great interest in fruits and vegetables containing high concentrations of flavonoids, which are considered potent antioxidants. Recent studies have shown that Aronia has a very high Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) compared to other foods, including blueberries. The fruit has potentially strong beneficial properties for health with regards to the function of coronary arteries, and still other studies suggest antimicrobial properties for urinary tract health, colon cancer-fighting properties and possibly aiding in the management of diabetes. To date, no major human health studies have been published, so these potential benefits are only inferred from in vitro research.
Several food products can be made from the Aronia fruit including juice, juice extracts, jelly, and wine. It is true that some processing of the fruit is necessary to overcome some of the fruit’s astringent qualities which probably stem from the flavonoid or tannin content. However, these qualities, considered nutraceutical, heighten Aronia’s marketability and sales potential as a value added product for Maryland farmers.