Serving Canned Cranberry Sauce This Year? Here's What You Should Know.

Don't sleep on the part about getting your cranberry sauce out of the can in one piece.

On Thanksgiving Day, football fans may be rooting for opposing teams in the TV room, and political arguments might break out in the dining room. But the most intense rivalry happens in the kitchen: homemade or canned cranberry sauce? With this in mind, here are answers to all your questions about cranberry sauce.


Ocean Spray says the first commercial cranberry sauce was canned in 1912 by Marcus L. Urann, a lawyer who also owned cranberry bogs. At that time, a cranberry grower in New Jersey named Elizabeth Lee was also boiling her berries to make a jelly-like sauce. Lee and Urann combined efforts to perfect the recipe, and the sauce became a holiday staple during the early 1940s.


Cranberries get their tartness from the high acid concentration. In fact, cranberry juice has the same pH as lemon juice. So in order for cranberry sauce to be palatable, it requires a fair amount of sugar or other sweeteners. On the back of canned cranberry sauce, you will find a short list of ingredients. Generally, it's cranberries, corn syrup (sometimes normal and high fructose), water, and citric acid (a preservative).

You might be wondering, "Wait, canned cranberry sauce has no pectin or gelatin? Then how do you explain the gelatinous consistency?" Interestingly, cranberries themselves have a high pectin content, making the addition of pectin or gelatin unnecessary.

Health Benefits

Cranberries qualify as a superfood—they're high on the scale of antioxidant-rich foods, outranking nearly every fruit and vegetable, second only to blueberries. Cranberries are also rich in vitamin C and fiber, as well as the metabolism-boosting mineral manganese. And yes, you reap all these benefits whether your holiday table has homemade or jellied cranberry sauce.

How to Get Cranberry Sauce Out of a Can

For many proponents of cran-in-a-can, the best part is jiggling out a perfect cylinder of red gelatin ribbed with imprinted can lines. Simply open with a can opener. Turn the can upside down, hovering over a plate. And gently shake once or twice until the jelly slides out easily onto the plate.

Serving Tips

For most people on "Team Canned Cranberry Sauce," the point is to keep the shape intact and simply slice it into circles. This hits their nostalgia buttons, and also keeps the sauce contained so that it doesn't run into the mashed potatoes and gravy. As an easy upgrade, you can also whisk a can of jellied cranberry sauce together with a can of whole cranberries, a little orange juice or zest, and maybe even some rosemary.

Pairings You'll Love

The reason cranberry sauce goes so well with Thanksgiving dinner? The tannins in cranberry skin bind with protein and fats—turkey, gravy, and buttery mashed potatoes—much like the way a tannin-forward red wine (Chianti, for example) pairs with a fatty steak.

Cranberry sauce is also great with ice cream or yogurt and granola, almost like a quick facsimile of a cranberry crumble.

And when it comes to leftovers, of course, cranberry sauce was meant to be mixed with a little mayo, spread on good toasted bread for a day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich. (If you made cranberry sauce from scratch and have fruit left over, try making a bourbon-cranberry compote.)

Shelf Life

If you bought too many cans of cranberry sauce, don't fret. Unopened jams, jellies, and cranberry sauce last for one year in your cupboard. That's one thing to cross off next year's holiday shopping list!

Recipes to Try

If you want to make homemade cranberry sauce, look no further than this delicious recipe for citrus spice cranberry sauce. And, if you'd like to please guests on both sides of the cranberry sauce debate, make a homemade cranberry sauce that looks like it came out of a can.

Here's how: Simply strain the homemade cranberry sauce using a fine sieve or food mill, add a little pectin, pour into a clean can with ridges, cover with foil, and let it sit in the fridge for 12 hours. To release your homemade canned cranberry sauce, run a butter knife around the sides of the jelly. If that doesn't work, use a can opener to open the bottom of the can.

Which Is Better: Canned or Homemade?

Like any good debate, there is no right or wrong answer, only very strong opinions. The solution is simple: Serve both versions, one on either side of the table.

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