Tiny Berry Tops Tomatoes in Lycopene
Agricultural Research Service
horticulturist Ingrid M. Fordham learned that the brilliant red berries on
autumn olivea multistem shrubwere edible, she turned them into
delectable jam. In the process, she noticed that the berries' red pigment
settled to the bottom of her juicer, and she wondered if it might be one of the
carotenoidsa group of compounds that includes beta-carotene.
When ARS nutritionist Beverly A. Clevidence learned about the pigment, she
offered to analyze the berries for carotenoids, especially lycopenethe
pigment that colors tomatoes red.
"We were astounded at what we found," says Fordham, who is with the
ARS Fruit Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. Ounce for ounce, the typical
autumn olive berry is up to 17 times higher in lycopene than the typical raw
Lycopene has generated widespread interest as a possible deterrent to heart
disease and cancers of the prostate, cervix, and gastrointestinal tract, says
Clevidence, who heads ARS' Phytonutrients Laboratory in Beltsville. This
health-giving pigment is also found in watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava.
But 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. intake comes from tomatoes and tomato
If future studies planned by Clevidence show that people readily absorb
lycopene from the berries, they could become an ingredient in processed foods.
"Not everybody likes tomatoes," she says, "and autumn olive
could become an alternative source of a potentially important nutrient."
Autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, is a nitrogen-fixing shrub covered
with silvery-green leaves and a profusion of red berries in late September and
October, says Fordham. Introduced from Asia in 1830, it has become a popular
erosion-control shrub along highways because it thrives in poor soil. But this
resilience has also made it a pest in some areas.
A handful of nurseries sell cultivated varieties of autumn olive as a food
source to attract wildlife. "Birds love the beautiful red berries,"
says Fordham. But there are few reports of people eating the sweet-tart,
pea-sized berries. She adds that the raw berries "taste good if they're
nice and ripe."
Fordham collected berries from five cultivated varieties and six naturalized
plants for analysis in Clevidence's lab. The berries contained the same
carotenoids as tomatolycopene, beta-carotene, and lutein, says
Clevidence. The big difference was in the lycopene levels. They ranged from 15
to 54 milligrams per 100 grams, compared to an average of 3 milligrams per 100
grams for fresh tomatoes, 10 milligrams per 100 grams for canned tomatoes, and
30 milligrams per 100 grams for tomato paste.By
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Human Nutrition, an ARS National Program (#107)
described on the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
Ingrid M. Fordham is at the USDA-ARS Fruit Laboratory, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Bldg. 010A, Beltsville, MD 20705-2350; phone (301) 504-7649, ext. 456, fax (301) 504-5062.
Beverly A. Clevidence is at the USDA-ARS Phytonutrients Laboratory, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Bldg. 308, Beltsville, MD 20705-2350; phone (301) 504-8367, fax (301) 504-9456.
"Tiny Berry Tops Tomatoes in Lycopene" was published in the September 2001 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.