The yellow-orange berry is only a few centimetres in circumference, but the flavour is much greater than the size. A taste sensation wells up in your mouth like a tropical storm – reminiscent of pineapple, peach and passion fruit makes it hard to imagine that this berry is grows in Sweden.
Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) grows wild in Europe but especially in Asia. In Sweden it is called in the vernacular for Finnbar and are most prevalent in the archipelago along the Gulf of Bothnia to Stockholm, but also locally on the west coast. The leaves are narrow and silvery on the underside and the bush is usually 1-3 feet high, but up to six feet tall varieties exist. The bush is unisexual – both male and female plants must therefore be present in the cultures. Sea buckthorn is known as a pioneer plant; it colonizes happy new ground and is both nitrogen-fixing and relatively salt resistant. The plant tolerates drought and large quantities of water but require light.
But buckthorn is about to become a new addition to the Swedish product market, one berry carries up to ten times more vitamin C than an orange. It is not only in Sweden that there is sea buckthorn fever. All over the world there is increasing interest in this thorny bush and several efforts are being made to cultivate it. Finland is very advanced, but also in Russia, the Baltic States, China, Canada and the US are commercially cultivating sea buckthorn. The berries can be used not only to make jam, marmalade and drinks but also in products that can be used for eczema and burns. A more useful shooting star is hard to find.
Charlotte Alklint from the Department of Food Technology is currently working to get Swedish cultivation and production started. The project is a collaboration between Ideon Agro Food, Skånemejerier, Kiviks cider, SLU and LTH, but Charlotte also received a scholarship in the spring of 100,000 crowns from the foundation Färs and Frosta. Fields are located on the SLU Balsgård and Öland, where the varieties are tested and harvested.
The problem is that sea buckthorn is not so easy to harvest. The berries sit on short stems near the trunk of the bush and the thorns make them difficult to pick by hand, says Charlotte. The method that worked best so far is to cut down the branches, freeze it all and then shake off the berries.
In addition to look for varieties that are easily harvested, we also try to find varieties that ripen at different times so that the harvest time will be as long as possible. Then it is important that the berries taste good and contain a maximum of vitamins, and ultimately you have to find a process that retains as much vitamins as possible in the finished product.
Vitamins are plentiful. Sea buckthorn contains not only vitamin C but is also packed with lycopene, a carotenoid that the body converts into vitamins. The substance is found in large quantities, also found in tomatoes, and provides a real health kick according to the latest findings. Sea buckthorn also contains vitamin E.
When I was little, my nanny used to make sea buckthorn juice and when I spent the summer in the country with them I learned what rural life was and the best was her juice and fresh buns. A memory that still remains both in my mouth and soul.