Published July 1, 2002. From Cook's Illustrated.
The test kitchen tried fresh berries from Chile as well as five frozen brands.
When local berries are not in season, can you still make blueberry cobbler? Should you rely on fresh berries from South America or frozen berries? If you choose the latter, should you pick cultivated or wild frozen berries?
Last winter, the test kitchen tried fresh berries from Chile as well as five frozen brands. The frozen wild berries easily beat the fresh imported berries as well as the other frozen contenders. (Compared with cultivated berries, wild berries are smaller, more intense in color, firmer in texture, and more sweet and tangy in flavor.) While frozen cultivated berries trailed in the tasting, all but one brand received decent scores.
Flavor aside, the cost of frozen berries is $8 per cobbler versus $25 for the fresh South American berries. You could make three cobblers using the frozen berries for that price, and the money would also buy better quality.
Why did frozen wild berries beat fresh berries? The imported berries are picked before they have a chance to fully ripen to help them survive the long trip North. As a result, they are often tart and not so flavorful. Frozen berries have been picked at their peak—when perfectly ripe—and are then individually quick frozen (IQF) at -20 degrees. The quick freezing preserves their sweetness, letting us enjoy them year-round—and at a price just about anyone can afford.