Black raspberries are a naturally-occurring variety of raspberry. The two most valuable commercial species are Rubus occidentalis and Rubus leucodermis. The dark purple-blue color, which is the main attraction of the species, is provided by intensely pigmented anthocyanin antioxidants which are also an important source of health benefits. Studies show anthocyanins hold antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, anti-proliferative and blood pressure-lowering properties. Health effects associated with consumption of the fruit include benefits for the digestive and immune systems and skin.
What are black raspberries? Black raspberry is the common name used for the following 4 species: Rubus occidentalis (from eastern North America), Rubus leucodermis (from western North America), Rubus coreanus (from Korea, Japan and China) and Rubus niveus (South Asia). They are varieties of dark purple to black-colored raspberries. Despite their somewhat unusual color, they are quite real. Plants are available for sale in nurseries and fruits can be found in supermarkets, farmer’s markets, health foods stores when they’re in season. The dark color of the fruits is a result of the presence of high amounts of pigmented anthocyanin antioxidants.
What do black raspberries look like? Black raspberries start off green and ripen to red, then a dark red-purple and finally a very dark purple, almost black color. Each fruit is actually made of dozens of smaller fruits grouped together to form what we commonly call the aggregate fruit we call a raspberry. Inside each of the individual fruits there is a tiny, dark red-purple, but edible seed. The stalk, also called a stem or receptacle, is easily detachable from the ripe fruit, a characteristic common to raspberries. Removing the stalk leaves a hollow in the fruits, at which point they look like tiny baskets or caps, hence the alternative names black cap, scotch cap or thimbleberry. This is a great way to differentiate them from blackberries. The fruits have fine hairs both on the outside and on the inside. Naturally-occurring mutations in black raspberries have given rise to golden yellow varieties – essentially a yellow ‘black raspberry’.
Are black raspberries and blackberries the same thing? No, they’re not. They are actually two different, but related species. Both belong to the Rubus genus, Rosacea or rose family, but are different species. The biggest difference between the two in terms of appearance has to do with the stalk or receptacle. In ripe black raspberries, removing the stalk leaves a hollow inside the fruit – in other words, it’s extremely easy to pick the raspberry right off the stalk. Whereas in blackberries, attempting to pick the fruit leaves a core inside. Another difference is taste: blackberries are sweet, but also have a somewhat bitter aftertaste and a certain astringency to them from their tannins content, along with fermented fruity flavors; black raspberries are much more pleasant-tasting, sweet, fruity and only slightly tart.
What do black raspberries taste like? They taste sweet, but not excessively sweet like yellow ones. They are faintly, but pleasantly tart, although less tart than red ones. They do have a unique flavor profile that makes them taste quite differently from both red and yellow varieties. I currently have fruiting red, yellow and black raspberries in my garden and I find the black ones the most pleasant-tasting, balancing sweetness and tartness with unique flavors. By comparison, yellow raspberries are the sweetest and least tart of the three, whereas red ones are the default raspberry flavor.
Are wild black raspberries edible? Yes, they are. Even though they occur naturally in the wild, the are perfectly edible and wonderfully flavorful. See below a collage of black raspberries at different ripening stages (pictures taken this year in my home garden).
Black raspberries uses
Black raspberries enjoy more select uses, such as making special alcohols. Fine French liqueurs and Korean wines such as bokbunjaju use black raspberries as their star-ingredient. Fruits are also being used to make natural dyes which are added to food…..for food coloring. Fruit and seed extracts are being researched for their antioxidant, anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Plants are used to make hybrid purple or blue raspberries. More conventional uses such as jams, jellies or pie fillings are reserved for the more readily available and inexpensive red variety.
Because they are not as popular and readily available as red or even yellow varieties, and more expensive as a result, black raspberries have a more modest commercial presence. They are not commonly seen in supermarkets or even farmers’ market except maybe for when they are in season, roughly from late June to mid-August, depending on the region and yearly temperature variations. They may also be available frozen or made into juice.
The nutritional profile of black raspberries is similar to that of other varieties of the fruit, with the exception of the differences in antioxidant profile. The most notable nutrition facts include: excellent vitamin C content, generous amounts of copper and manganese, good iron, vitamin K and vitamin E content. The species is also a good source of dietary fiber and contains moderate amounts of carbohydrates, but is low in calories and fat. B vitamins, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc are likely present in small amounts.
However, wild black raspberries nutrition may differ from the nutrition of cultivated black raspberries. For example, the wild-sourced fruits may be higher in certain minerals such as copper, manganese, potassium and others, depending on soil particularities and other environment-related factors. But the amount of carbs, sugars, dietary fiber, fat and protein in black raspberries is roughly the same as in the other varieties, as well as the energetic value.
Antioxidants in black raspberries
Black raspberries are sources of vitamin C, vitamin E (the seeds), copper, iron and manganese, essential nutrients with important antioxidant functions. For example, copper, iron and manganese are co-factors for the superoxide dismutase enzyme that scavenges free radicals in the body and prevents cell damage. Other antioxidants present in varying amounts in the fruits include ellagic acid, ellagitannins, quercetin and anthocyanins. The darker the fruit, the higher the anthocyanin content. In vitro studies on the anti-mutagenic and anti-proliferative properties of anthocyanins have found they have the ability to reduce tumor growth and have an inhibiting effect on cancer cell proliferation.
What are the benefits?
How are black raspberries good for you?
1) Benefits for digestion and constipation relief from good amounts of dietary fiber.
2) Good food for managing hemorrhoids thanks to generous dietary fiber and water content.
3) Support for healthy weight loss, primarily as a result of a low energetic value and low fat content.
4) Anti-aging benefits for skin thanks to generous amounts of vitamin C which stimulates collagen production and vitamin E (in seeds) which locks in moisture and scavenges free radicals.
5) Anti-inflammatory food – anthocyanins and vitamin C are good for managing inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and gout.
6) Immune system-boosting and regulating properties from vitamin C and anthocyanin and other antioxidants.
7) Anticancer properties: in vitro studies show anthocyanins in black raspberries and other dark-colored fruits have anti-proliferative and anti-mutagenic properties.
8) Energizing and revitalizing, black raspberry is a good source of iron and helps combat anemia-related muscle weakness and fatigue. Generous amount of vitamin C in the fruit help with iron absorption.
9) Potential benefits for lowering cholesterol levels from dietary fiber and anthocyanins.
10) Good for hypertension – the lack of sodium, small amounts of potassium and magnesium content and especially anthocyanin antioxidants help lower high blood pressure numbers.
11) Vitamin C and anthocyanin antioxidants in black raspberries help maintain blood vessel elasticity and improve endothelial function, further contributing to reduced risks of cardiovascular disease.