The word berry has two meanings: one based on a botanical definition, the other on common identification. True (botanical) berries are a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary. In common parlance, however, berries are more broadly recognized as small, round or semi-oblong, usually brightly colored, sweet or sour fruit.
In botany, the berry is the most common type of fleshy fruit in which the entire ovary wall ripens into an edible pericarp. The flowers of these plants have a superior ovary and one or more carpels within a thin covering and fleshy interiors. The seeds are embedded in the common flesh of the ovary. Examples of botanical berries include the tomato, grape, lychee, loquat, lucuma, plantain, avocado, persimmon, eggplant, guava, uchuva (ground cherry), and chili pepper.
True berries are distinguishable from false berries like blueberries and cranberries for which the fruit is formed from other parts of the flower, not just the ovary. Also not true berries, aggregate fruits like raspberries are collections of small fruits, and accessory fruits like strawberries are formed from parts of the plant other than the flower. As explained below, none of these is a true berry.
Berry colors are due to natural pigments synthesized by the plant. Medical research has uncovered medicinal properties of pigmented polyphenols, such as flavonoids, anthocyanins, and tannins and other phytochemicals localized mainly in berry skins and seeds. Berry pigments are usually antioxidants and thus have oxygen radical absorbance capacity ("ORAC") that is high among plant foods. Together with good nutrient content, ORAC distinguishes several berries within a new category of functional foods called "superfruits", a rapidly-growing multi-billion dollar industry that began in 2005 and is identified by DataMonitor as one of the top 10 food categories for growth in 2008.
A 2007 report combined four criteria — nutrient content, antioxidant qualities, medical research intensity and commercial success — giving an approximate rank of commercial activity for six exotic superfruits, including three berries — wolfberry, sea buckthorn and açaí — as the highest rated.
From 2007-8 medical literature discussing berry nutrients and potential health properties, grape, strawberry, cranberry and blueberry are the most favored research topics among berries currently.
|True berry||Pepo||Hesperidium||False berry (Epigynous)||Aggregate fruit||Multiple fruit||Other accessory fruit|
|Common parlance||Berry||Blackcurrant, Redcurrant, Gooseberry||Cranberry, Blueberry||Blackberry, Raspberry, Boysenberry||Mulberry||Strawberry|
|Not a berry||Tomato, Eggplant, Guava, Lucuma, Chili pepper, Pomegranate, Avocado, Kiwifruit, Grape||Pumpkin, Gourd, Cucumber, Melon||Orange, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit||Banana||Hedge apple||Pineapple, Fig||Apple, Peach, Cherry, Green bean, Sunflower seed|