Arkansans can mark National Blueberry Month in July by trying the different varieties of blueberries available, according to Marilyn Burch, an Extension associate-foods and nutrition.

“Besides their rich taste and health benefits, there’s nothing better about blueberries than how easy they are to eat,” said Burch from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Blueberries can be eaten alone as a healthy snack or used in salads or baked goods.

“Just rise them off and toss them in your mouth,” she said.

Blueberries are recognized internationally for their health benefits, making them one of the most productive and profitable crops, Burch said.

“The berries are an antioxidant dynamo,” she said.

Blueberries are packed with Vitamin C, which decreases aging effects and disease, and Vitamin E, which promotes healthy skin and vision. One cup of blueberries offers nearly 20 percent of the body’s daily fiber needs.

“Keep in mind that blueberries aren’t always blue – some are pink,” Burch said. “Different varieties come in different sizes as well. Fruit from the unique varieties are usually medium to medium-large in size.”

The “Pink Lemonade” blueberry plant is a popular variety in the U.S., which is known for its sweet fruit that is said to have a slightly “flowery” taste. The “Razz” variety tastes like raspberry, and the “Sweetheart” variety is known for its firm texture. “Cara’s Choice” and “Pink Champagne” are considered the sweetest varieties and are known for their pleasant aroma.

Burch said blueberries are the most affordable and taste best from May through October. When selecting ripe blueberries in the grocery store, shoppers should choose firm, dry, plump berries that have smooth skin and are blemish-free. The berries should move freely within the package. Any damaged blueberries should be removed from the package before storing.

“Individuals should not be alarmed by the dusty, cloudy film on blueberries,” she said. “This is nature’s way of preserving the fruit’s freshness. Washing the berries removes this protective covering. It’s best to wash your blueberries right before you eat them, since berries washed too soon will start to deteriorate in storage.”

Blueberries can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for nearly a week. However, they should ideally be eaten within a few days to ensure the best flavor and freshness.

Burch said Arkansans can explore the versatility of blueberries by preparing the USDA Mixing Bowl recipe for blueberry coffee cake.

Lo’s Blueberry Coffee Cake

Ingredients: 1 egg, 1/2 cup non-fat milk, 1/2 cup non-fat vanilla yogurt, 3 tablespoons canola oil, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons lemon peel (grated, yellow only), 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 cups fresh (or frozen unsweetened) blueberries;

Topping Ingredients:

3 tablespoons sugar, 1/8 cup walnuts (coarsely chopped);

Instructions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Position rack in the center of the oven. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, yogurt, oil and lemon peel. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt onto the liquid ingredients. Using a fork, stir very lightly, just until ingredients are combined. Gently fold in the blueberries. Pour the batter into an 8- or 9-inch baking pan coated with nonstick spray.

In a small bowl combine the topping ingredients. Sprinkle evenly over the cake batter. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the baking pan on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: When tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, this coffee cake will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. It also freezes very well.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.

— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.