Does cooking elderberries destroy nutrients?

Elderberries are the dark purple or black berries from the elderberry shrub, which is native to Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. These tiny berries are packed with nutrients and have long been used in traditional medicine. Elderberries can be eaten raw, but are more commonly cooked and used to make juices, jams, jellies, pies and wine. Some of the potential health benefits of elderberries include:

  • High in vitamin C – excellent source of this important antioxidant.
  • Antioxidants – contain anthocyanins and polyphenols which may have anti-inflammatory and immune supporting properties.
  • May reduce cold & flu symptoms – some studies have found elderberry supplements can shorten duration of colds.
  • May improve heart health – early research indicates anthocyanins may improve cholesterol and lower blood pressure.

As elderberries become more popular, a common question is whether cooking destroys some of their beneficial nutrients. Let’s take a look at what the research says.

Does Cooking Destroy Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant in the body. It also plays a role in immune health, collagen production, iron absorption and more. Elderberries are rich in vitamin C, with approximately 60mg per 100g of raw berries.

Unfortunately vitamin C is sensitive to heat, water and oxygen. Over time after picking, the vitamin C content in raw elderberries declines as the berries are exposed to these elements. Cooking speeds up this loss of vitamin C.

One study examined how different cooking methods affect vitamin C levels in elderberries. They found boiling and baking elderberries at 350°F (175°C) for up to 30 minutes resulted in approximately a 50% loss of vitamin C content. Higher temperatures and longer cooking times increased the nutrient loss.

Overall, research shows both fresh and dried elderberries can degrade and lose vitamin C content during storage and cooking. To maximize your vitamin C intake from elderberries, it’s best to consume them as fresh as possible and avoid overcooking.

Ways to Preserve Vitamin C When Cooking Elderberries

Here are some tips to retain more vitamin C if you want to cook elderberries:

  • Choose minimal cooking times – simmer briefly vs prolonged boiling.
  • Steam instead of boil.
  • Make elderberry jam instead of pie filling.
  • Opt for baking vs frying.
  • Avoid soaking dried berries too long before use.
  • Consume the boiled elderberry liquid too – don’t just discard.

While cooking does degrade vitamin C, keep in mind that elderberries have such a high amount to begin with. Even after cooking losses, elderberry products like juices and jams still contain valuable levels of vitamin C.

Anthocyanins in Elderberries

The deep purple color of elderberries comes from anthocyanin compounds. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid antioxidant with many health benefits. Some of the anthocyanins found in elderberries include:

  • Cyanidin 3-sambubioside
  • Cyanidin 3-glucoside
  • Cyanidin 3-sambubioside-5-glucoside
  • Cyanidin 3,5-diglucoside

Research shows anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune supporting properties. They may also play a role in heart health, cancer prevention, cognitive function and more.

So does cooking elderberries destroy these beneficial anthocyanin antioxidants?

Effect of Cooking on Anthocyanins

Multiple studies have evaluated how heat affects anthocyanins in foods like elderberries. The results show anthocyanins are fairly heat stable, but some degradation can occur with long cooking times or very high temperatures.

In one study, researchers found baking blueberries at 400°F (205°C) for 25 minutes only reduced total anthocyanin content by 6%. Other research on blackberries found boiling and canning only caused anthocyanin losses of 10-19%.

Similar to vitamin C, the greatest anthocyanin degradation occurs with prolonged, high heat cooking methods like frying or baking. Steaming, boiling and microwaving led to lower losses.

Additionally, adding sugar or an acidic ingredient like lemon juice seems to help stabilize anthocyanins during cooking. The high sugar and acid content of jams and jellies likely prevents major anthocyanin destruction.

So while some elderberry anthocyanins break down with heat, studies show the losses are relatively minor with typical cooking methods and durations. The beneficial antioxidants are largely retained.

Other Polyphenols in Elderberries

In addition to anthocyanins, elderberries contain other polyphenols and tannins that may have health benefits. Polyphenols are plant compounds with antioxidant properties.

Researchers have identified the following polyphenols in elderberries:

  • Quercetin
  • Kaempferol
  • Phenolic acids
  • Tannins

Like other antioxidants, polyphenols can help counter inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Early studies suggest they may positively impact blood pressure, blood lipids, blood sugar and more.

So what happens to polyphenols when elderberries are cooked?

Unfortunately, less research has been done specifically on how cooking affects retention of these compounds in elderberries. However, studies have evaluated this in other berries.

One paper analyzed polyphenol losses across different cooking methods for blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. They found detrimental effects occurred with more aggressive cooking techniques.

Boiling had minimal impact on polyphenols, with approximately 5-10% losses. Baking caused a bit more degradation, while refluxing in a solvent resulted in polyphenol losses of 28-43%. The greatest reduction came from dry oven heating, which led to nearly complete polyphenol breakdown.

In summary, wet heat methods like steaming and boiling appear to have less impact compared to dry oven heating methods. As with other phytochemicals, minimal cooking times and gentler heat will maximize polyphenol retention.

Effect on Antioxidant Capacity

While cooking can degrade individual antioxidants like vitamin C and polyphenols, the total antioxidant capacity may remain relatively unchanged.

One study analyzed the antioxidant status of raw and cooked elderberries. They found no significant differences in the total phenolic content and antioxidant capacity between both groups. Although heat likely caused some phytochemical losses, overall antioxidant function was preserved.

Research on other berries like blueberries has shown similar stability of antioxidant capacity after moderate heat exposure. Once again, excessive cooking times and temperatures will be more detrimental.

Does Cooking Destroy Resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a stilbene antioxidant found in grape skins and wine that’s been linked to anti-aging benefits. Early research found resveratrol in elderberries.

However, more recent studies using sensitive lab techniques have not detected resveratrol in fresh or cooked elderberries. It appears elderberries do not actually contain significant resveratrol.

So cooking cannot destroy resveratrol content in elderberries, because there is likely very little, if any, to begin with. Other berries like grapes and blueberries do provide resveratrol. And like other antioxidants, cooking reduces but does not eliminate the resveratrol levels in these foods.

Effect of Drying Elderberries on Nutrients

In addition to cooking elderberries, drying is another form of processing that affects phytochemical content. Dried elderberries are more shelf-stable for year-round use.

Studies show drying causes some loss of vitamin C in elderberries, though less than cooking. Dried elderberries retained approximately 73% of the vitamin C content of fresh berries in one study.

Interestingly, drying had minimal impact on anthocyanins. Dried elderberries retained about 94% of the anthocyanins compared to fresh. The pigments remained relatively intact.

However, drying did reduce polyphenol content by approximately 50% according to one study. Dried berries also had lower antioxidant capacity, likely due to this polyphenol loss. But dried elderberries still maintained high antioxidant levels overall.

In summary, drying preserves the vitamin C and anthocyanins fairly well compared to cooking. However, it does appear to impact other polyphenols more significantly.

Nutrients Maintained During Processing

Although cooking and drying can degrade certain phytochemicals in elderberries, the berries still retain much of their nutrient value. Some of the key nutrients maintained include:


Fiber does not break down during normal cooking or drying methods. The approximately 10 grams of fiber per cup of raw elderberries will be preserved when processed into juices, jams or dried fruit. Fiber intake is linked to improved gut and heart health.


Elderberries provide minerals like iron, potassium, phosphorus and copper. The mineral content remains unchanged when elderberries are cooked or dried.

Vitamin A

This fat-soluble vitamin is also maintained through cooking and drying. About 12% of the daily value (DV) of vitamin A is found per cup of cooked elderberries.


This essential trace mineral has antioxidant properties and supports bone health. About 50% DV of manganese is provided per cup of cooked elderberries.

Key Nutrients Provided by 1 Cup (145g) Raw Elderberries
Nutrient Amount (DV%)
Fiber 10g (36%)
Vitamin C 60mg (67%)
Vitamin A 241IU (12%)
Iron 2.7mg (15%)
Potassium 445mg (10%)
Manganese 0.6mg (30%)

DV = Daily Value. Source: USDA FoodData Central

So while certain phytochemicals like vitamin C and polyphenols are reduced through cooking, key macronutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber are retained. This means elderberry products like juices, jams and dried fruit still offer nutritional benefits.

Cooking Methods to Maximize Nutrition

Based on the research, we can summarize some best practices for cooking elderberries to maximize nutrition:

  • Minimize cooking time – shorter durations = less phytochemical loss.
  • Steam instead of boil if possible.
  • Avoid excessive baking temperatures above 400°F (205°C).
  • Bake elderberries in sauce vs dry heat.
  • Avoid frying – use gentler cooking techniques.
  • When drying, use low temperatures under 150°F (~65°C).

Keep in mind that even with substantial cooking losses, elderberry products like juices and jams still retain meaningful levels of nutrients and antioxidants. So enjoy these elderberry foods even if they are not completely raw.

Cooking Elderberries May Improve Digestibility

Although some phytochemicals are degraded during cooking, heat can make the nutrients that remain easier to absorb and digest.

Compounds in raw elderberries like tannins and fiber may bind to and inhibit the absorption of some minerals. Moderate cooking can inactivate tannins and break down fiber, increasing the bioavailability of iron, calcium and other minerals.

The anthocyanins also become more bioavailable with heat. One study found 13 times more anthocyanins were absorbed from baked blueberries compared to fresh ones.

So while cooked elderberries may be lower in some compounds, your body can actually extract more benefit from the nutrition that remains. Enhanced absorption may offset some of the cooking losses.


Cooking elderberries does result in some loss of vitamin C and polyphenol antioxidants. However, anthocyanins are relatively preserved, along with minerals, vitamins and fiber. With careful cooking methods, substantial nutrition can be retained.

Drying also degrades some vitamin C and polyphenols, but maintains anthocyanins well. Keep in mind cooking and drying may improve the bioavailability of certain compounds too.

For maximal nutrient preservation, opt for short cooking durations, lower temperatures, and wet heat techniques like steaming. Avoid prolonged, aggressive cooking methods. And consuming both the berries and the cooking liquid provides the full spectrum of nutrients available after processing.

In moderation, cooked and dried elderberries like juices, jams, and dried fruit can still be part of a healthy diet. They provide a range of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. So enjoy these tasty elderberry products while keeping cooking losses in mind.

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