Tops Tomatoes in Lycopene
By Judy McBride
September 13, 2001
Tiny, red berries from an obscure
shrub pack more lycopene than tomatoes. The berries from autumn olive could
become an alternative source of this important nutrient, if two
Agricultural Research Service scientists
have their way.
ARS horticulturist Ingrid Fordham learned that the brilliant-red berries
were edible and turned them into delectable jams. She noticed that the red
pigment settled to the bottom of her juicer and wondered if it might be one of
the carotenoids, especially lycopene, the pigment that colors tomatoes red. ARS
nutritionist Beverly Clevidence offered to analyze the berries.
The analysis showed that, ounce for ounce, the typical autumn olive berry is
up to 17 times higher in lycopene than the typical raw tomato.
Lycopene has generated widespread interest as a possible deterrent to heart
disease and cancers of the prostate, cervix and gastrointestinal tract,
according to Clevidence, who heads ARS
Phytonutrients Laboratory in
Beltsville, Md. Eighty to 90 percent of the U.S. intake of this
health-enhancing nutrient comes from tomatoes and tomato products.
Autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, is a multistem shrub covered with
silvery green leaves and a profusion of red berries in late September and
October, according to Fordham, who is with ARS
Fruit Laboratory in
Beltsville. It has become a popular erosion-control shrub along highways
because it thrives in poor soil.
A few nurseries sell cultivated varieties of autumn olive as a food source
to attract wildlife. But there are few reports of people eating the sweet-tart,
pea-size berries. Fordham collected berries from five cultivated varieties and
six naturalized plants for analysis in Clevidences lab.
The berries contained the same carotenoids as tomato--lycopene, beta
carotene and lutein. The big difference was in the lycopene levels. They ranged
from 15 to 54 milligrams per 100 grams, compared to an average 3 mg/100 g for
fresh tomatoes, 10 mg/100 g for canned tomatoes, and 30 mg/100 g for tomato
An article on autumn olive appears in the
issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.