Apple and Scottish Sea Buckthorn

Academics from a Scottish university have used the berries from Sea Buckthorn, a bush which is often regarded as a weed to create a new Scottish fruit drink.

Scientists from Queen Margaret University have worked with Borders-based apple juice producer Cuddybridge,to develop a unique seasonal drink using the berries .

Sea Buckthorn is a deciduous shrub which produces small yellow flowers in the spring and yellow or orange berries in the autumn.

Queen Margaret University had been researching the nutritional properties of Sea Buckthorn since 2008 and has run various trials for small food producers who are looking to enhance the nutritional content of their products whilst also adding a Scottish twist.

The university and Cuddybridge were brought together by Interface which matches the needs of companies with academic experts and provides funding to encourage collaboration.

Cuddybridge owner, Graham Stoddart said:

“I particularly wanted to understand how the addition of Sea Buckthorn could provide a nutritional boost to my high quality apple juice.

“My focus has always been on producing a natural Scottish juice which is free from artificial additives, but that often brings the challenge of a limited shelf life. The support from Queen Margaret has helped me bring this new seasonal product to market.”

“Product integrity is of the utmost importance to Cuddybridge and it always aims to fully understand the qualities and properties of its products so that any claims made by the company are entirely accurate.”

Following earlier research, Dr Mary Warnock, Senior Lecturer in Microbiology atQueen Margaret University, was already convinced that Sea Buckthorn could be heralded as Scotland’s new superfruit.

The fruit contains high levels of vitamins C and E: the concentration of vitamin C in the fruit is higher than that in strawberry, kiwi, orange, tomato and carrot, and the vitamin E content is higher than that found in wheat embryo, safflower, maize and soybean.

The plant is already used in China, Norway and Russia for consumption and topical application but in Scotland it has been often viewed as an invasive thorny plant.

She said:

“We are excited that our work in this area is changing the reputation of this undervalued plant to one which can add nutritional value to the Scottish diet.”

It can normally be found growing in Scottish coastal areas near sand dunes, particularly in East Lothian.

If planted correctly it can help stabilise sand dunes next to golf courses, preserve areas of natural interest from human interference, and protect other plants by reducing salt spray produced by cars.

Cuddybridge presses a variety of apples throughout the year, but due to the seasonality of Sea Buckthorn, the combined Apple and Sea Buckthorn juice is only available as a fresh juice between September and February which makes it a truly seasonal Scottish drink.

Using a supply of apples from Scotland’s National Trust (NTS) orchards, Cuddybridge, in partnership with NTS, will press and bottle the Scottish Apple and Scottish Sea Buckthorn combination and sell it under a joint label to the luxury market including Harvey Nichols, Peter's Yard, The Scottish Café and Restaurant, Monachyle Mhor Hotel and The Scottish Parliament Café.

Cuddybridge claims it sSea Buckthorn and apple drink is both tasty and highly nutritious.

It says the combination of the apple counteracts the slightly bitter taste of the Sea Buckthorn and results in a delicious, freshly squeezed fruit drink.

Dr Warnock said a major focus of the university’s work is the support of small and medium sized companies in the food and drink sector.

“We are therefore delighted that our research is helping a small artisan producer to develop his product range and exploit the rich natural pickings fromScotland’s larder.”

“It is also heartening to see Sea Buckthorn occasionally being incorporated into high-end dining in Scotland. Scottish chefs are just catching on with some viewing it as an unusual seasonal ingredient.

“We need to wake up to the potential of this underused Scottish plant which is literally growing on our doorsteps. I am surprised that Scotland is not investing more heavily in how we can best utilise Sea Buckthorn. The main issue now is how best to harvest the plant so it can be more readily available to producers and the public. There is an excellent opportunity for an entrepreneurial grower to rise to the challenge.”

Cuddybridge now aims to continue product development work with QueenMargaret University on a new range of Sea Buckthorn based products.