Is canned or homemade cranberry sauce best? Learn surprising facts about canned cranberry sauce that may help settle the debate.
On Thanksgiving Day, football fans may be rooting for opposing teams in the TV room, but the most intense rivalry happens in the dining room: Homemade or canned cranberry sauce? With this in mind, here are answers to all your burning cranberry sauce questions—What is cranberry sauce made of? How was cranberry sauce invented?—so you can enter the debate with all your facts straight.
When Cranberry Sauce Was Invented
Ocean Spray claims 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 Thanksgiving staple in the early 1940s.
Ingredients in Canned Cranberry Sauce
The high acid concentration in cranberries are what give them tartness—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 sweetener. On the back of canned cranberry sauce you will find a short list of ingredients, generally 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 added pectin or gelatin unnecessary.
Health Benefits of Jellied Cranberry Sauce
Cranberries qualify as a superfood—they're super 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 get all these benefits whether your Thanksgiving 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. Ready to learn how? Have a pen ready? Step one: Open with a can opener. Step two: Turn the can upside down, hovering over a plate. Step three: Gently shake once or twice until the jelly slides out easily—plunk!—onto the plate. (That wasn't so hard, was it?)
How to Serve Canned Cranberry Sauce
For most people on Team Canned Cranberry Sauce, the point is to keep the shape intact and simply slice 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.
The Food Network’s Sunny Anderson came up with another option if you like the taste and convenience of the can, but want your foodie guests to think you’ve made a batch of homemade cranberry sauce. Whisk the can of jellied cranberry sauce together with a can of whole cranberries, a little orange juice or zest, and maybe even some rosemary.
What Is Good With Cranberry Sauce
The reason cranberry sauce goes so well with Thanksgiving dinner? The tannins in cranberry skin bind with protein and fats—aka turkey, gravy, and buttery mashed potatoes—much like the way a tannin-forward red wine (Chianti, for example) pairs with a big 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, check out these ideas for how to use them.)
How Long Does Jarred Cranberry Sauce Last?
Buy too many cans of cranberry sauce? Have no fear. According to our this list of expiration dates, unopened jams, jellies and cranberry sauce last for one year in your cupboard. That’s one thing to cross off next year’s Thanksgiving shopping list!
How to Make Canned Cranberry Sauce
If you want to make homemade cranberry sauce, look no further than this classic recipe. And, if you’d like to please guests on both sides of the cranberry sauce debate, you could do what Food52 suggests: Strain that homemade cranberry sauce using a fine sieve or food mill, add a little pectin, pour into an clean can with ridges, cover with foil, and let 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.
So 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 at either side of the table.