Russian Brined Lingonberries {food + medicine}

When I told my mom that I should write a post about Russian brined lingonberries, she casually said ‘why bother?’ She meant that not many people have access to lingonberries to begin with, and also that their unique tartness might not resonate with folks who didn’t grow up with them.

That made me think of two things: I regularly gawk at unfamiliar foods in ethnic stores but hesitate to buy them because I simply have no clue what to do with them. But if I had ever glanced at a post or a photo of these foods in the past, even without active interest, I would have a good idea of what they are once I actually come across them. The other thing is there are a lot of people like me who grew up eating them, but once they move across the world they assume (like I did!) that those foods are just a distant memory.

So the purpose of this post is to give you an idea about this wonder berry, should you ever have access to it; and also remind you about it and inspire you to look for it, if you grew up with it in Russia or Europe.

What is lingonberry?

Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) is a small, mostly uncultivated red berry, about the size of a pea. It is a member of cranberry and blueberry plant family. Lingonberry grows in the subarctic regions of the world, in sparse woods and dry bogs, and is very popular in Northern Europe and Russia. It is also available in the northern parts of Canada and the US (Alaska, Washington, Oregon).

What does lingonberry taste like?

Lingonberry is very tart, with only a hint of sweetness at its peak. It resembles cranberry both in taste and texture, but has its own distinct flavor.

Lingonberry is a full of nutrients and health-promoting benefits

  • High antioxidant and anti microbial activity (source, source)
  • Anticancer properties (source, source)
  • Can help fight infections (source)
  • Lingonberries contain higher amount of flavonoids than any commonly consumed fruit or vegetable, especially high in  bio-available quercetin (source)
  • Has potential in treatment of diabetes and obesity (source, source)
  • And so much more! (source)

Lingonberry has very long shelf life

Lingonberry has an unusually long shelf life. In fact, unpicked ripe lingonberries would stay on the plants for months easily surviving a winter (if birds allowed). Picked fresh berries can be safely stored for 8-12 weeks in refrigerator. The reason for such long shelf life is a high content of benzoic acid, a natural preserving agent (source).

Lingonberry is widely used in folk medicine in Russia

  • improves digestion
  • reduces overall inflammation
  • treats kidney disorders and cystitis
  • helps with arthritis and rheumatism (due to its benzoic acid)
  • helps remove salts of heavy metals
  • improves skin conditions like eczema and fungal infections

Lingonberry is hard to ferment

Because of the high content of benzoic acid, a strong preservative and microbicide, lingonberries cannot be lacto fermented by simply leaving them at room temperature. Lactic acid bacteria do not proliferate in the presence of benzoic acid.

There is a way to reduce the amount of benzoic acid in lingonberry – by combining it with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a common yeast widely used in sourdough bread making and beer brewing. Lingonberries can then be inoculated with a yeast or lactic acid fermentation starter (source). It might be a desirable trick in the North of Europe (for making alcoholic beverages) but it is not practiced in Russia. 

Lingonberry can be preserved by brining in plain or sugar water

Brining lingonberries in water, plain or sugared, is the main way to preserve lingonberries in the north of Russia. Brining means simply covering berries in liquid (brine) and leaving them at room temperature for a period of time, before moving them to cold storage.

On any other occasion, leaving berries or fruit sitting with sugar at room temperature would result in alcohol fermentation. But lingonberry is the exception to that rule – its benzoic acid prevents alcohol from forming.

Most of the time, brining fruit or vegetables equals lacto fermentation. Lacto fermentation is a process of metabolic activity between beneficial lactic bacteria and plant sugars to create probiotic rich, easily digestible foods. While there are definitely metabolic processes that take place while brining lingonberries, there are no clear signs of fermentation such as bubbling, frothing and funny smell. If the jar is closed tightly for an extended period, the pressure does build up so it’s a good idea to either burp the jar every now and then (open the lid to release pressure), or use an air lock fermenting jar like this.

Where to get lingonberries

Since it’s pretty unlikely that you have access to fresh local berries if you live in the States, you can check out your local European markets’ freezer sections. Most of them have lingonberries. The Russian word for lingonberries is brusnika, in case you need to ask for help and come across a particularly dense Eastern blocker. Try a small amount first to make sure it is a flavor you enjoy, and then you can venture to something along these lines.

Russian brined lingonberries

HOW TO MAKE RUSSIAN BRINED LINGONBERRIES

Ingredients
Fresh or frozen lingonberries, any amount
Filtered water

Instructions
Place lingonberries into a glass mason jar.
Add enough water so that all the berries are submerged.
Cover well (I love these reCAP mason jar lids, they can be used with a waterless fermenter).
Keep at room temperature for 2 weeks.
Transfer to refrigerator after 2 weeks. Lingonberries can now be eaten, although I think the flavor improves with longer storage.

Notes
The berries will eventually come to float, which is fine. There is no need to weigh them down.
I like to eat brined lingonberries with savory dishes and tossed with sauerkraut. I love them with beef goulash and mashed potatoes! All my kids enjoy them but my 22-month old is completely obsessed with them, it’s pretty funny to watch.
Back in Russia, some folks mix brined lingonberries with honey or sugar before serving them like a sauce.

Russian Brined Lingonberries
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: ferment
Cuisine: Russian
Ingredients
  • Fresh or frozen lingonberries, any amount
  • Filtered water
Instructions
  1. Place lingonberries into a glass mason jar.
  2. Add enough water so that all the berries are submerged.
  3. Cover well (I love these reCAP mason jar lids, they can be used with a waterless fermenter).
  4. Keep at room temperature for 2 weeks.
  5. Transfer to refrigerator after 2 weeks. Lingonberries can now be eaten, although I think the flavor improves with longer storage.
Notes
The berries will eventually come to float, which is fine. There is no need to weigh them down.
I like to eat brined lingonberries with savory dishes and tossed with sauerkraut. I love them with beef goulash and mashed potatoes! All my kids enjoy them but my 22-month old is completely obsessed with them, it's pretty funny to watch.
Back in Russia, some folks mix brined lingonberries with honey or sugar before serving them like a sauce.

russian brined lingonberries

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