Berry delights - the colourful jewels of Finnish summer
The story of Goldilocks and the three bears seems like it could have been written about Finnish berries, instead of porridge. To cultivate berries, the temperature during the short summer months can’t be too hot or too cold. The weather can’t be too rainy or too dry. It has to be ‘just right’ to grow the perfect berries.
Finland is a country which sees extreme temperature differences between summer and winter months — and that means cultivating berries here is no easy business.
“Some years when berries are flowering, nights are rather cold” says Simo Moisio, director of Arctic Flavours, a berry company based in north east Finland. “If the temperature is below zero then the farmers have to shell (cover) the fields… that means more cost to cultivate strawberries” he explains.
“Strawberry season lasts only about three weeks… this summer has been very cold and rainy and so the strawberry season came two weeks late” adds Simo.
But those same weather extremes also help contribute to the unique flavours of the crops.
“During the growing season, berries get a lot of light and so they grow very fast and the sun enhances the taste of the berries” says Simo, who also explains that the pure water used during berry cultivation makes the berries very clean; while cold winters kill off bugs, so less pesticides are used in Finnish berry cultivation compared with southern European countries where winters are mild.
From Åland to Lapland you can find more than 50 types of berries in Finland. About 37 of them are edible, and more than a dozen are cultivated as crops. Some of the berries you’ve probably heard of — even the more ‘exotic’ ones like cloudberries or lingonberries. But others might be unfamiliar like bearberries or crowberries.
One of Finland’s most important berry exports is both well known, and yet also virtually unknown at home: the bilberry.
Locally-grown bilberries are sold at every store and market place during the summer, marketed as ‘mustikka’ in Finnish. This translates directly as ‘blueberry’ and can cause some confusion. Bilberries are native to northern Europe, and are a different species of fruit entirely to the North American cultivated ‘blueberries’.
Finnish bilberries are densely packed with vitamins and nutrients, as berry expert Simo Moisio explains: “The most famous ‘super fruit’ is bilberry. It has three to four times more anthocyanin polyphenols than cultivated blueberries”. Bilberries are also packed with vitamins C and E, and are a source of dietary fibre. According to a paper published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, “an overwhelming body of research has now firmly established that the dietary intake of berry fruits has a positive and profound impact on human health, performance, and disease.”
In Finland, a whole industry has grown up around the health properties of local berries. “There are over hundred small firms in Finland making berry products” says Simo Moisio. “They make berry powders, dried berries, smoothies, shots, cold pressed juices, liquors (like crowberry and arctic bramble), extracts and snacks. Many of the exotic products made by forest berries are also possible to export”
It’s this export market that Finpro and Food From Finland are actively targeting — particularly in Asia.
“Koreans consider Finnish food usually natural, fresh and clean” says Jori Mylläri who works at the Finpro office in Seoul, South Korea. “So far the berries coming from Finland to Korea are Finnish bilberry juice and bilberry powder” Jori explains.
“We see constant growth in the berry market. But it requires a coordinated effort from the Finnish berry and food industry to put their efforts into building a marketing campaign differentiating Finnish bilberries from locally sold US and Chilean blueberries” he says.
Two upcoming events will help Finpro and the Finnish berry industry do just that. In September there is a Nordic food and beverage promotion; while in November there is Korean Food Week.
Back in the forests of north east Finland, Simo Moisio is a man who practices what he preaches. He doesn’t just grow the berries for sale, he picks his own as well to eat at home.
“Last summer I picked twenty buckets of bilberries, ten buckets of lingonberries and we cultivate in our home garden black and red currants, and strawberries for our own use. We also use cloudberries, crowberries, sea buckthorn and rowanberries”.