Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are to Scandinavians what blackberries are to Americans—an abundant wild fruit free for the taking by anyone with a basket, a harvesting fork, and the patience to pick through and clean their harvest.
Produced by low, evergreen shrubs throughout Scandinavia's forests, the tart red berries are much smaller and juicier than their distant cousin, the cranberry, and closer in makeup to the raspberry.
Lingonberries are the last berries to ripen in autumn. After the blueberries and bilberries of July and August, lingonberries don't come in until September.
Lingonberries are known as tyttebær in Norwegian and Danish, rauðber in Icelandic, puolukka in Finnish, and lingon in Swedish.
Their Looks Are Deceiving
Although lingonberries look bright red and attractive on the bushes, they are not good candidates for eating raw as they are quite bitter. Sugar transforms them into a concoction that goes well with game, meat, fish and with several desserts.
How Early Scandinavians Used the Fruit
Bursting with natural preservatives and pectin, lingonberries were invaluable to earlier generations of Scandinavians, for they could be kept for months at room temperature simply by placing them in jars of water (vattlingon) or by stirring the raw berries with a small amount of sugar to make rårörda lingon, an easy lingonberry jam (no cooking required).
How Lingonberries Are Used Today
In addition to the ubiquitous Norwegian pancakes, Swedish köttbullar (meatballs), kåldomar (stuffed cabbage rolls), raggmunk (potato pancakes), and fried herring served with lingonberry sauce or jam, this fruit is used in so many other ways in modern cooking. Here are just a few:
- Swedish Wolf's Paw Cocktail Recipe
- Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberry Preserves Recipe
- Christi Extreme Cocktail Recipe
- Scandinavian Sweet Soup Recipe
Hot rice pudding is traditionally served at Christmas in Sweden and is often accompanied by rårörda lingon. Lingonberries also are used in sauces, bread, cakes, and desserts.
Where to Find Lingonberries
If looking for lingonberries or lingonberry jam in ethnic European food markets, you also may find them called red whortleberries, cowberries, fox berries, mountain cranberries, mountain bilberries, or partridgeberries.
It's nearly impossible to find fresh lingonberries unless you can find an online purveyor, but frozen and canned lingonberries are widely available in the States.
Health Benefits of Lingonberries
For years, it has been an accepted fact in the scientific fact that dark berries like blueberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, and others contain as much unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids as fish per unit of energy.