Blueberries: Which Ones Taste Best?

BLUEBERRY TASTE TEST!

We’re big fans of blueberries here on the North Coast of California, as our damp Pacific Northwest climate and acidic soil make it the perfect setting to grow blueberry bushes. And we’re coming up on the best time to plant them, as most nurseries get their biggest shipment of blueberry varieties in fall.

Because blueberries are beautiful plants almost year-round, they’re great for incorporating into landscapes, even low-maintenance or commercial/ business landscapes.

And if you forget to eat the fruit, the birds will clean up after you, in stark contrast to many fruit trees which bear an almost-overwhelming harvest sometimes (juicing my apples in fall feels like a part-time job – not that I’m complaining!).

But which berries are the tastiest? Over the past two years I’ve taken it upon myself to do a taste-test of the blueberries grown locally here in Humboldt County to see which ones I ought to plant and suggest to my clients. (The sacrifices I make in the name of research, right?)

In a general sense, small berries are best for baked goods since they have less moisture, while larger berries are best for eating right off the shrub. I prefer the tart ones for cooking and preserving since they add a stronger flavor in baked goods. Sweet berries don’t taste like much in muffins and pies, but they are delicious eaten fresh.

Below, I’ve shared the good, the bad, and the “meh” in the world of blueberries. I’ve starred my favorites.

Blueberry plants design by Matthew Cunningham Landscape DesignLandscape design featuring blueberries by Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design.

Best blueberries for coastal Northern California:

Bluecrop: Tastes just like a good supermarket blueberry – perfect balance between sweet and tart, but missing a tiny bit of “wow” factor.

Bluejay: Boring, watery flavor, but I’m told this keeps well for freezing and canning.

Blueray: Complex, tangy, overall sweet flavor. A very nice berry indeed.

Brunswick: Sweet but uninteresting flavor (only redeeming quality is the dwarf 2-foot size of the shrub).

Earliblue: Bland and uninteresting. What’s the point of being the first to ripen if it is going to be so deadly boring?

Duke: Mildly tart but otherwise doesn’t distinguish itself much. Again, no point being an early ripener if you’re not very tasty.

Jubilee: Bright, crisp, complex flavor, balanced in sweetness. A favorite. Medium berries.

Misty: Mild, uninspiring flavor.

*Patriot: Big, juicy-sweet berries with lovely flavor. Sean Armstrong of Tule Fog Farm in Arcata says that Patriot’s the most popular berry for our area. Tolerates wetter soil than most.

*Peach Sorbet: New variety with plump, sweet, mild berries with a hint of pine in the flavor. Notable for dwarf habit to 2-3′ and particularly nice foliage. (This one wins best foliage plant.)

Polaris: Tart but otherwise boring.

*Reka: Very best tart berry. An early ripener with some actual flavor! Medium size berry.

Rubel: Small berries, with a gently tart flavor.

Sharpblue: In contrast to its name, Sharpblue has a mild, sweet flavor. Not a standout, but not bad either.

*Sunshine Blue: Similar to Bluecrop, this is a supermarket-style blueberry with a good balance between sweet and tart. Dwarf shrub to 3 feet, notable for being nearly evergreen in mild climates. (This one’s the best all-’round dwarf – good for cooking, eating, landscapes.)

*Toro: Ginormous, tart, flavorful berries. This was my favorite in every landscape and I will definitely be planting one at my house! (This wins the “most thrillingly gigantic berries” award.)

Keep in mind that the soil, lighting, water, and other factors play a large part in the flavor of your blueberry, so it’s possible that my “watery and boring” berry might be a hit when planted in your garden. That said, I am unwilling to consider a reality in which Toro, Reka, and Patriot don’t knock it out of the park, flavor-wise. Nom!

Wondering what everyone else is growing? Check out Daniel Gasteiger’s Post Produce, a monthly linkup of blog posts about what people are growing and eating in their own backyards.

Thanks to Brazel Berries for the use of the blueberry photo at top.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks Gen for the research! Your taste trials will help me make some good choices when I’m ready to plant my favorite edible landscape shrub. I also appreciate your taste and texture standards, like my own.
    I’d love to hear your opinions on a corn taste test. I find most folks go for sweet and miss the texture and ‘corn’ flavor balance in their trials, making it difficult to know which variety to go with.
    Thanks for the punishment you endure for us! :)

    • says

      Thanks, Evelyn! I sure wish we grew corn here, but our lack of sunshine means I have never once gotten a decent crop. I’ve long ago given up. But I think you should go for it! I mean, taste tests are a lot of work to conduct (all that noshing can really wear you down) but they, we’re dedicated to the cause of good food and good gardening, right?

  2. says

    During blueberry season I eat massive quantities of this berry, it is my favorite fruit. Sadly it is hard to grow in our alkaline soil. I have tried to remedy this by growing dwarf and low-bush varieties in pots, with mixed success.

  3. marla says

    I added the “climax” variety to my garden. Yes, explosive taste in my North Carolina garden. Reka and Jersey varieties have also been yummy.

    If you need more acid and are a coffee drinker, consider dumping your coffee grounds into your composter or adding to topdressing around the bushes.

  4. steve says

    Legacy belongs in the argument. Very, very good.
    Elizabeth and Sparta are tremendous and grown only for their taste.
    . Hardy blu, brigette, from the early openers try Hannas Choice and maybe my favorite because it s so distinctive, Bonus.
    The true gourmet usually agrees with and feels that Jersey is loaded with richness and subtleties.
    I was surprised to see blue crop on your list.

  5. steve says

    Jason

    you can create a micro-environment. Blueberry roots only go down about ten inches or less and with most cultivars they don t spread out more than to the drip line.
    . Dig your hole 18 inches deep by 2.5 feet wide. Put 4 to 6 inches of sand on the bottom for drainage and as a barrier to the native soil. Discard the old,soil. Fill the hole with peat and aged pine chips or pine bark. That will set the ph level and the breaking down of the pine will keep it there. Now mulch with pine needles and fertilize lightly twice a year with Holleytone or AMMONIUM sulphur (not elemental sulphur or aluminate sulphur).
    . PH jumps back if you try to amend the soil and set it to acidity or a low Ph. Won’t happen this way , just find a cultivar that is recommended for your zone and enjoy.

  6. steve says

    PS….make sure the pine chips are aged; organic materials use up the nitrogen in the soil as they decompose and would starve the plant.

  7. Reeva Amo says

    Hi, we recently purchased a large package of lovely looking blueberries from costco. It was the driediger farms brand and well within the expiration date. If looking on their website it seems to be that these may be duke blueberries but when my mother and i tasted some they were like no other blues we had ever tasted. Some were sweet and plump but some were smaller and all when eaten had this sharp, zingy, tart almost effervescent like quality on your tongue. We thought that they may have gone bad or stale (which who knows how long costco had them) but none were moldy or shrivelled… it was very strange.
    Just wondered if this characteristic had ever come up or have we simply gone mad? ;)

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *