Know Your Ingredients: Cranberries

With Thanksgiving not far behind and Christmas fast approaching, I began thinking about cranberry wine. I’ve never made cranberry wine before, so I think the best way to start is by taking a closer look at what’s in cranberries.

What are cranberries like?

One cup (240 ml) of whole cranberries weigh about 3.5 oz (100 grams). Chop them up and they take up less space, so you can fit 3.9 oz (110 grams) into a cup. Fresh cranberries keep best when stored cold, just above 32F (0C). Phenolic content is high, up to 200 mg/100 g. Some of these phenolic compounds act as antioxidants, others, like benzoic acid, as antimicrobials. Total acid content is about 3 g/100 g, most of which is citric and malic, and they’re rich in pectin.

What’s in cranberries?

100 g of cranberries contain:

87.13 g water
12.2 g carbohydrates
0.39 g protein
0.13 g fat
0.15 g ash

Of the 12.2 g of carbohydrates, 4.04 g are sugar:

3.28 g glucose
0.63 g fructose
0.13 g sucrose

What does this mean for winemakers?

It means we’ve got some work to do in the sugar and acid department. Let’s assume that the juice yield will be equal to the water content of cranberries – call it 87 ml/100 g – and that all the sugar and acid will be in the juice. In that case, we’d get 87 ml of juice, containing 4 g of sugar and 3 g of acid. That puts the acidity of the juice at 34.5 g/L, as citric, and it means we’ve about 46 g/L of sugar. Converting it to more familiar units, we have a specific gravity (SG) of 1.015 (5 Brix) and a titratable acidity of 37 g/L, as tartaric.

I would approach this by diluting the juice, with sugar-water, until the acid is closer to normal – I might target 9 g/L in the must, which is still a little high but within the norm for a dry white wine. Combining one part cranberry juice with three parts sugar-water gets us to 9.25 g/L. How much sugar in the sugar-water? An SG of 1.090 implies about 240 g/L of sugar. We started with 4 g in 87 ml, which is 46 g/L, and diluted it to 25%. It turns out that three parts of 305 g/L sugar water to one part 46 g/L cranberry juice gets us 240.25 g/L.

That would be a good starting point. A larger than normal dose of pectic enzyme and a yeast that consumes malic acid, like Lavlin’s 71-B, would also be good ideas. I’ll think about this some more and pull it all together in a recipe soon.

Further Reading

Haraold McGee’s On Food and Cooking is a great book on the science of cooking. No recipes, but lots of information on ingredients, like cranberries and other fruits, and food chemistry. That makes it a great reference for the home winemaker as well as the home cook.

The USDA nutrient database is a great place to look up the composition of all sorts of common foods. They don’t have much to say about acidity, but still very valuable.

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3 thoughts on “Know Your Ingredients: Cranberries

  1. Erroll Post author

    Did you ever come up with a recipe that you liked for cranberry wine?

    Hello Joshua,

    I made a cranberry wine from concentrate, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. I mentioned the acidity of cranberries in the post, but the wine was also rather tannic. I made it dry, so the tannin and acidity made the wine a little harsh. So now I think cranberries are better used as part of a blend to provide acidity or tannin (the way some people use elderberries). Another approach would be a sweet cranberry wine – using sugar to balance the acid and tannin.

    Have you made wine with cranberries?


  2. Joshua

    I have a batch of cranberry wine going right now.

    I have also had very good cranberry wine. The maker (family) heated up the about 18 lbs of cranberries in water until they just got soft and then added sugar to bring it up to 12% potential alcohol for a 5.5 gallon batch. It makes a fantastic wine. It also blends amazingly well with apple wine if you back-sweeten it a bit.

    Feel free to email me if you would like more details.


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