We talked with Chef David Turin, owner and operator of several restaurants in Portland, Maine, about how the flavor of wild blueberries can bring customers in and keep them coming back for more.
1. What is different about wild blueberries in terms of flavor?
Unlike hybrid blueberries, wild blueberries haven’t been engineered to all taste the same. Each berry is different. Also, unlike the normally sweet highbush blueberry, wild blueberries have a delicate sweetness that goes well with traditional uses, like sweet dishes and desserts. But, the sweetness isn’t overpowering so it can also work in savory dishes.
2. What kinds of foods do the flavor of wild blueberries pair well with?
There’s a subtle herbal quality to them and a mild astringency that compliments heartier proteins, like venison, or wild salmon. If you were to pop a handful of wild blueberries into your mouth, you’d have some sweet, some sour, some bitter. If you combine that handful of blueberries with something savory, you’re going to hit all the taste centers in the mouth—sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. It’s a tremendous feeling and takes a dish to a whole new level, resonating throughout your mouth.
3. How can you prepare wild blueberries in ways that really bring out the flavor?
I’ve used it in all kinds of different applications, from when the blueberry was the star of the dish, to dishes where it was just an accompaniment. Those layers of flavor really help create wonderful sauces. I’ve cooked them down into a gastrique to serve over quail or halibut. The subtle flavor really makes it pop.
4. Does the size of the berry impact the flavor at all?
Absolutely. Because they are smaller than hybrid blueberries, they are packed with flavor. There’s more surface ratio, which means there is more flavor. The small size means that the flavor is concentrated. Because they’re smaller, they freeze well with virtually no flavor loss, which means easy storage and less food waste through spoilage.
5. Are there other benefits to having a smaller berry?
The cost of using wild blueberries is lower. Because you get more berries in a pound, you get more out of the pound. And their smaller size means that you can distribute them more evenly. We like to toss a handful of the frozen ones on our Super Food salad with dark greens, goat cheese, and walnuts. Just before we serve it, we’ll throw a handful of frozen berries on the salad, and they’ll be thawing just as they’re getting to the table.
For restaurants looking to add new excitement to their menu, wild blueberries can provide be an ingredient that presents a wide variety of flavors—from sweet to sour—to a menu. The wild blueberry can elevate any dish, chefs say, from ordinary to extraordinary, bringing customers in for a taste and then back again for more.