In 1959, a nationwide food panic erupted over a treasured Thanksgiving dish. Two weeks before the holiday, the federal government announced that cranberries had been contaminated by a cancer-causing chemical. Cranberry sales plummeted, schools tossed out cranberry products, restaurants eliminated the suspect fruit from menus. The White House even took a stance, serving applesauce in lieu of cranberries at Thanksgiving dinner.
The fear was overinflated: A person would have had to eat several thousand pounds of cranberries a day—for several years—to actually get cancer. While some feared cranberry sales would never recover, the industry rebounded from what became known as the “the Great Cranberry Scare of 1959.” Today, the United States is consistently the world’s top producer of cranberries, and the tiny berries are now known for their high levels of antioxidants.
Most cranberries come from Wisconsin and Massachusetts
The United States is the world’s leading cranberry producer, followed by Canada and Chile. U.S. farmers harvested 40,800 acres of cranberries last year, yielding a total of nearly 8.7 million barrels according to the Cranberry Marketing Committee. Just five states grow almost all of the country’s supply of the tart berries: Wisconsin produces more than half of all cranberries in the United States, Massachusetts harvests another third, and New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington produce much of the rest. (Cranberries have long been used as a superfood.)
Cranberry sales spike during the holiday season
Americans now devour close to 80 million pounds of cranberries every year during the week of Thanksgiving, according to Ocean Spray. That’s a whopping 20 percent of the country’s total yearly appetite for the red fruit. On average, 200 cranberries are needed to create a single can of sauce, and it takes more than four thousand cranberries to produce one gallon of juice.
Production has climbed steadily
Grown on perennial vines, cranberries thrive in acid peat soil found in bogs and marshes. Total harvest in the U.S. slowly increased over the past 10 years, yielding 821,369 more barrels in 2018 than in 2008. Farmers have improved yield per acre by planting higher producing varieties and improving farming practices. (Watch a farmer harvest cranberries at Wisconsin’s oldest cranberry marsh.)
Cranberries grown domestically are sent around the world
Where do the berries go once harvested? According to Ocean Spray, the states with the highest appetites for cranberries last year were California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Massachusetts. Internationally, the United Kingdom buys the most cranberries, followed by Germany, Mexico, and France.