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Rowan berries

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Rowan berries in France

The rowans or mountain-ashes are plants in the family Rosaceae, in the genus Sorbus, subgenus Sorbus. They are native throughout the cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Use as food

The berries of European Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) can be made into a slightly bitter jelly which in Britain is traditionally eaten as an accompaniment to game, and into jams and other preserves, on their own, or with other fruits. The berries can also be a substitute for coffee beans, and have many uses in alcoholic beverages: to flavour liqueurs and cordials, to produce country wine, and to flavour ale.

Rowan cultivars with superior fruit for human food use are available but not common; mostly the fruits are gathered from wild trees growing on public lands.

Rowan berries contain sorbic acid. Raw berries also contain parasorbic acid (about 0.4%-0.7% in the European rowan), which causes indigestion and can lead to kidney damage, but heat treatment (cooking, heat-drying etc.) and, to a lesser extent, freezing, neutralises it, by changing it to the benign sorbic acid. Luckily, they are also usually too astringent to be palatable when raw. Collecting them after first frost (or putting in the freezer) cuts down on the bitter taste as well.

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