UNL researchers work to make berry more mainstream

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 9:07 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A University-of-Nebraska-Lincoln-based startup is up to something sweet. Working with cold-pressed fruits to benefit their research, their company and to make their product more universally enjoyed.

The company is known as A+ Berries. It’s focused on using Aronia berries, tasked by the American Aronia Berry Association, to increase the value of the product across the board.

The berry is much more common than one would think. They are growing freely outside of UNL’s Food Innovation Center. Husband-and-wife duo Changmou Xu and Xiaoqing Xie have been working in different capacities to make them more marketable.

“They cannot sell this berry because of the bad taste, so that’s why we founded A+ Berry, to try to help grow it,” Xu said.

The first hurdle is the berry’s tart, dry taste. The pair have been creating drinks that utilize the berry using a cold-pressed technique. The early stages of their research targeted changed it to be more palatable, something they’ve figured out how to do.

“We can figure out the flavor and then we know how to protect the health benefits without changing anything about the health benefits,” Xie said. “So we think that we can have this business so we can figure out this problem we can develop a very good product for the consumer.”

Their research has also shown a multitude of health benefits, with high levels of antioxidants. It mirrors fruits like pomegranates and prunes.

The company has received various grants to fund ongoing research, a recent endeavor has them working to create a non-alcoholic drink that mimics the flavor of red wine.

“During the pandemic time more and more care about their health,” Xie said.

The berry’s success could also be beneficial to farmers. They can grow well in Midwestern soil and could be used to diversify farmers’ crop rotation.

It could also be profitable, Aronia berries are sold at a higher price point, about $1,000 per acre.

“[The] Midwest is #1 production area. I would say more than 80% of producing is in the Midwest and they just need a little water so just a little management,” Xu said.

The next step of their research will be to study the health benefits of the products they’ve already developed, specifically on cardiovascular health.

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