#LEARNABOUT: Vol 3. Serviceberry

This issue of #LEARNABOUT features a unique berry that ripens around this time of the year (late spring to early summer). It grows around m...

This issue of #LEARNABOUT features a unique berry that ripens around this time of the year (late spring to early summer). It grows around most cities, but few even know about its existence, let alone know that it's actually edible and delicious.

What are serviceberries?

The name of this mysterious berry is called serviceberry, but it takes on many other common names, including juneberry, saskatoon berry, and amelanchier.
So let's clarify them first:
The field of fruit classification (if such a field even exists) can't seem to agree on what to call it, partially because different regions have different preferences to its name. Canadians tend to call it serviceberry, the U.S. regions of the Midwest (such as us Minnesotans) and the Northeast tend to call it juneberry, and saskatoon berry is the weird name that the fruit market chose to brand it when it eventually made its way to the grocery store.
However, I am going to tell you, with the best of my knowledge, how these names actually came about.
First of all, there are many many species of serviceberries, all under the genus Amelanchier, under the family Roseaceae. Among these berries, some grow on trees, some grow on shrubs, some ripen in late May, some ripen in June, and some ripen throughout July and August. Juneberry, as what the name indicates, refers to the specific Amalanchier species that ripens in June, and more often than not, the berries grow on trees. Serviceberry is just a categorical common name given to the rest of the fruits in this genus, and more often than not, they grow on shrubs. Now, lastly, the weird one: saskatoon berry. Saskatoon berry originally only referred to one species of Amalanchier: Amelanchier alnifolia, which grows mostly in the northern U.S. and most of Canada. However, when the U.S. fruit and vegetable administration (again I don't know if such an agency actually exists) decided to make money off of this fruit, they needed to come up with a more exotic name than serviceberry/juneberry (however, I do think juneberry sounds wayyyy more romantic, just like April showers and May flowers), hence they went with saskatoon (sounds sassy).
All clear? Great! Moving on. First let me show you what they look like:

Serviceberries closeup

What do they remind you of? If you say blueberries, you are my kind of guy/gal! 
The size and texture of a serviceberry almost resembles a blueberry by 100%. Depending on the species, the taste ranges anywhere from apple to cherry. It is sweet and mild and with a hint of sourness and even nuttiness (which probably comes from the seeds). The seeds can be almost indistinguishable like those of a blueberry, or it could be harder like those of a raspberry. 
There you have it: blueberry size and texture + raspberry seeds+ apple/cherry taste. That's what you call a serviceberry! 

What makes serviceberries special?

Serviceberries and blueberries were once like twins in North America. Early European settlers consumed both wild serviceberries and wild blueberries for thousands of years for its nutritional values and the vital vitamin C. In recent decades, the blueberry got discovered by the fruit industry and started its modern commercial cultivation, while the serviceberry became the forgotten child and wasn't given much love until very recently. The reason why blueberries became popular and not serviceberries is still a mystery to me, since both fruits are almost identical in nutritional values (high in vitamin C, fiber, and most importantly, vitamin B2 and biotin), according to a study called "Compositional and Functional Properties of Saskatoon Berry and Blueberry" published in International Journal of Fruit Science, 2005. 
Another reason: they're delicious. So if you hate blueberries (how dare you), you might want to give serviceberries a try to eat a fruit that is just as nutritious but with a different taste. 

Where can I find them? 

So far, I haven't seen many grocery stores or farmer's markets carry serviceberries (or juneberries or saskatoons). Your best bet is to walk around your neighborhood, an arboretum, or woods to forage them on your own. 
Then the question becomes: how does one identify a serviceberry bush/tree? 
Serviceberries are actually very easy to identify: you can do so by the shape of the leaves, the shape of the flowers (if you can catch them), and lastly the fruits, of course. 
Here are some pictures of serviceberry flowers/leaves in different stages of their lives:
serviceberry flowers
When the white flowers bloom, they take the shape of five elongated oval-shaped petals arranged in a single layer, and the leaves tend to fold.

serviceberry leaf
This is what the leaf of a serviceberry tree/shrub looks like in the summer. It looks very much like a rose, but without the glossy layer on top of the leaves, so if you feel it, it will be a matte texture and soft. 

serviceberry with fruits
When the tree grows berries, it looks like this. You will know that the berries are ripened once you see that they turn burgundy or purple. The darker they are, the sweeter they are!

serviceberry in Fall
In the fall, serviceberry leaves change in color, ranging from greenish-yellow to orange to red. You can collect the colorful leaves and make art out of them! Here's a card I made along with a poem I wrote for my friend's birthday in the fall (in Chinese). 
serviceberry leaf art

What can I do with serviceberries? 

The answer is simple: anything you can do with blueberries! Eat them raw, dry them for trail mixes, bake them in pies, make jam out of them, make serviceberry flavored tea... the list goes on and on!

Flavor Index

Serviceberry Flavor Index

(image credits: serviceberry flowers- www.ontariowildflower.com,  serviceberry leaf- www.hort.uconn.edu,  serviceberry with fruits- www.eattheweeds.com, serviceberry in Fall- www.rmilcsiklandscapearchitect.com) 

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