Haskap -A New Kind of Wine

By: Jody Timer, Entomology at LERGR & EC

In the colder parts of this state, we are always looking for new berries to make into wine.

Ideally, we are on a search to find berries that will stand cold winters and late frosts.  As an end to this means, three years ago at Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGR & EC) we planted an experimental patch of Haskap bushes (Lonicera caerulea).

Haskap (Blue Honeysuckle) Berries. Photo from: Haskapa.com

Haskap or blue honeysuckle, is an extremely cold hardy, edible berry producing plant, resisting temperatures as low as -46°C (-50.8°F) (Thompson 2008). Even flowers can be exposed to temperatures of -7°C (19.4°F) with no detriment to fruit set. Haskap is also tolerant of a wide range of soil pH (5.5-7.5) (Retamales and Hancock 2012) allowing for production in many different soils. The bushes will survive in the wild in swamp-like conditions, but they thrive in well drained soils. The fruit development period for Haskap starts very early in spring and is very short; 6-8 weeks from bloom to harvest (Thompson 2006). In our climate, Haskap will produce fruit as early as mid-June, coinciding somewhat with the strawberry market. The small blue fruits have a fresh, somewhat tart, raspberry/blueberry to cranberry flavor. They should be purple all the way through before they are fully ripe. These plants do not sucker, need little pruning, and tend to fruit when very young. A Haskap bush can be productive for 30 years. Haskaps are native to Siberia and northeastern Asia (Bors et al. 2012), and were recently introduced to the North American market being advertised for its many claimed health benefits. Some researchers (Bors et al. 2012) believe that haskap could replace blueberries as the new ‘super fruit’. Lonicera have been used widely in folk medicine in northern Russia, China and Japan since ancient times. In recent years, phenolic compounds present in fruit crops, especially berries, have gained much attention due to the accumulating scientific evidence of their potential health benefits. Its juice has 10 to 15 times more concentrated color than cranberry juice. The fruit is high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, fiber, and potassium.

Antioxidant levels are measured using the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) method. A wide variety of food has been tested using this methodology, with the Haskap Berry being rated very highly in comparison with other berries. The berries’ extremely high ORAC value indicates a high anthocyanin, poly phenol, and bioflavonoid content.

In addition to fresh market potential, Haskap can be used in processed products including pastries, jams, juice, ice cream, yogurt, sauces, and candies. These berries also make a nice dark red or burgundy colored wine. The Canadian market is receives about $13.00 per pound, while the Japanese market is about $30.00 per pound of berries (LaHave Forests’ Haskap Day).

Haskap fruits obtain almost full size 4 weeks after blooming and begin to turn purple. The dark skin of the fruit is covered by a waxy coating (bloom) and resembles the outer covering of blueberries and concord grapes. At 5 weeks old they are fully purple but at 6 or 7 weeks old they are fully ripe and tasty. That is for a normal year. But some varieties do develop slower especially if not pruned to let in enough light. Though Haskap is touted as having few disease and insect pest problems, the plant can be negatively impacted by sunburn, mildew and birds.

Haskap Bushes. Photo from aumacksimertals.com

Haskap Bushes. Photo from: honeyberryusa.com

Bob Bors of University of Saskatchewan has been the primary researcher of Haskap varieties. The following is from the research at the University of Saskatchewan (www.usask.ca/agriculture/dom_fruit/index.html):

Like many other fruit crops, haskap requires pollen from an unrelated variety in order to set fruit. Haskap does not have separate male and female plants. When two compatible haskap varieties are planted close to each other, both bushes will set fruit. But it is not enough to have compatible pollen. To pollinate each other both plants must bloom at the same time and be genetically compatible. There is overlap between nearby groups but peak bloom is usually five days different between categories.  Blooming times are dependent on where the Haskap are located. 

‘Tundra’ may be the variety best suited for commercial production at this time (2007).Tundra’s fruits were firm enough to withstand commercial harvesting and sorting at the University of Saskatchewan, yet tender enough to melt in the mouth. Firmness is a rather rare trait especially for large fruited blue honeysuckles. Ranking at almost the top for flavor and fruit size the shape of its fruit was deemed acceptable for the Japanese market. Its fruit is at least 50% larger than blue honeysuckles currently available in Canada and the US. Its firmness and the fact that this variety does not ‘bleed’ from the stem end when picked could make this variety especially suited for Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) processing.

‘Borealis’ has the distinction of having the best testing and largest fruit size in our breeding program as of 2007. (However, there were many good tasting haskap varieties and it was hard to decide) Its fruits were usually twice the size of any of the 35 Russian varieties in our collection of similar age. (Most varieties of haskap/blue honeysuckles seem to have larger fruit as the bushes get older). Unfortunately, this variety does not have the firmness of ‘Tundra’ and it is not suitable for IQF. It tends to get a bit mushy when handled with equipment. It may be best for home gardeners or U-pick operations who can hand pick the delicate fruit. Or if shake harvesting the fruit, the berries will be damaged and will need to be quickly processed. Not only did the breeder and a University panel choose it as having the best flavor, but its top rating for flavor was also verified by a Japanese Company that chose it as the best tasting of 43 samples!” 

The Tundra is by far the hardiest and best growing of the four varieties we have planted at the research station in Erie County (PA).  The Indigo Treat is also doing well. Indigo Gem and Berry Blue have both developed black leaves. We are going to determine this year if the black leaves are from sunburn, mildew, or early dominancy.  Haskap can go dormant as early as mid-August which may be the cause of brown leaves.

Haskapa of Nova Scotia at www.Haskapa.com has a wide variety of products made from Haskaps.  They include syrup, wine, gin, jelly, soap, dried berries, and oils to name a few. This new crop could be grown alongside existing fruit tree orchards, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and juice and wine grape vineyards that currently dominate the landscape. If successful, these new crops may serve to supplement the growers’ income, especially in adverse years.

References Cited:

  1. Bors, B., Thomson, J., Sawchuk, E., Reimer, P., Sawatzky, R., and Sander, T. Haskap breeding and production-final report (pp. 1-142). Saskatchewan Agriculture: Regina.
  2. Retamales, J.B., and Hancock, J.F. 2012. Nutrition. In J.B. Retamales and J.F. Hancock (eds.), Blueberries (pp. 103-142). Wallingford: CABI.
  3. Thompson, M.M. 2006. Introducing haskap, Japanese blue honeysuckle. Journal of American Pomological Society 60:4:164-168.
  4. Thompson, M.M. 2008. Caprifoliaceae. In J. Janick and R.E. Pauli (eds.), The Encyclopedia of fruit and nuts (pp. 232-235). Wallingford: CABI.
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4 responses to “Haskap -A New Kind of Wine”

  1. Stephe Menke says :

    So, Denise, will you make some wine from this? I have made Aronia wine here, but haskap is new to me..

    • psuenology says :

      Hi Steve, I won’t be able to make wine from this through PSU’s wine research program, personally, but I think it offers a nice option for people interested in making fruit wines.

  2. Louis Mihalko says :

    I would like to discuss planting this berry In Johnstown Pa. I already have a small vineyard and I am interested in expanding with a fruit that doesn’t freeze! Please contact me by email as I need direction and would like to meet to discuss and visits others.

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