It could be berry good news for northern Manitoba.

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This article was published 31/3/2015 (2168 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It could be berry good news for northern Manitoba.

Although it's not yet a harvested cash crop in Manitoba, researchers have discovered lingonberries grown here are healthier than in most other places. That could lead to a commercial future for potential growers of what researchers are calling a super-berry.

Often compared to the cranberry, the lingonberry is a smaller, bright red, tart berry, with high antioxidant levels.

"We were super-excited, because I never saw a fruit that had such a high antioxidant level before," said Chris Siow, a research scientist based at the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine at the St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre.

"Lingonberries are one of the super-fruits because it contains a lot of other nutrients -- high fibre, a lot of vitamin C, omega-3, and (low) sugar compared to other fruits."

Native to colder northern latitudes, the lingonberry has a higher antioxidant level when grown in Manitoba, researchers say.

Commonly found in the Flin Flon and Lynn Lake regions of northern Manitoba, lingonberries are harvested by berry-pickers there.

Del Hildebrandt, a harvester from Lynn Lake, said people from the town love the berries.

"We call them moss berries here. People make juice out of them and with the pulp they make jam," Hildebrandt said.

"As long as it's a good year, you can pick buckets and buckets of them. The (berries) are easy to pick and easy to store."

The berries were featured on the Dr. Oz show in 2011 as the new super-fruit.

The higher antioxidant levels in the Manitoba berries also offer greater health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, preventing oxidation of blood cholesterol and aiding in keeping blood vessels healthy. Foods containing antioxidants are also believed to have some cancer-preventing qualities.

West Lynn Heights School in Lynn Lake has started using the berries for an elementary school breakfast program.

"They say it goes over really well here at the school -- the kids love them," Hildebrandt said.

"The (berries) are really healthy."

As the principal investigator of the Innovative Therapy Research Lab, Siow has also been collaborating with the Atlantic Cool Climate Crop Research Centre in St. John's, N.L., to study what causes the nutritional differences between the central and eastern berries.

"It could be the genetics (of the berries), it could be a new variety... it may have something to do with the climate or soil, but we have no idea. We are doing a lot of research on this right now," Siow said.

Newfoundland and Labrador produces about 90,909 kilograms of lingonberries a year commercially, while the berries are only wild harvested in Manitoba.

Siow is also working with the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie and is excited for the potential future production of the berry.

"Hopefully, (we) come up with some commercial produce, then we can have a home-grown, home-produced product."

jenna.dulewich@freepress.mb.ca