Blue, round, and small. Perhaps a weird blueberry? Is it overripe? A different color? Maybe even poisonous? No! This is a bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)! In fact, this fruit is closely related to the common blueberry we are all familiar with. They are cousins, in a way. While they may look alike from the outside, once cut in half, the bilberry reveals dark red, deep purple, and almost blue flesh that distinguishes it from an ordinary blueberry. Also, the bilberry tends to be a little smaller than the more well-known blueberry.

Do they taste different?

Surprisingly, the delicious bilberry does taste different from the regular blueberry. The bilberry’s more intensely juicy and acidic flavor makes it the perfect fruit for a pie.
Nevertheless, blueberries and bilberries are often confused, even just due to their names. The word ‘blueberry’ is often just applied to any berry with blue skin – which, of course, also describes bilberries.

The bilberry outshines the blueberry when it comes to nutrients.

Not only do bilberries contain more vitamin C and E in comparison to their common cousins; they are also much richer in anthocyanin, which is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The compound anthocyanin is also the reason for the rich and deep color of the bilberry’s flesh. Be careful when handling bilberries, since they are softer than blueberries and stain everything they come in contact with, from your hands to your teeth!

Legend has it that soldiers ate bilberry jam in WWII to promote night vision.

As we have seen, the nutritious bilberry offers a range of health benefits. But the most remarkable story concerns air force pilots in the Second World War. Legend has it that pilots would eat bilberry jam before missions, to improve their night vision during flights. Since then, research has tried to prove that bilberries can improve eye sight: Imagine eating a fruit and being able to see better in the dark! It would definitely make walks through dark hallways, woods, or streets a lot easier – not to mention driving at night!
Sadly, research has not shown any definite results just yet. So for now, their exquisite taste and the abundance of vitamins will have to be enough of a reason to eat bilberries.

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