Cranberry sauce: Secrets of the jelly

Posted at 5:13 PM, Nov 20, 2014

American stomachs will be the final resting place of about 11 billion cranberries this holiday season, mostly in the form of jiggly canned cranberry sauce.

So what exactly is this stuff?

Cranberry sauce was invented by Marcus L. Urann in 1912 as a way to use cranberries year round, according to Ocean Spray. Canned jellied sauce was first sold in stores in 1941.

Cranberries are native to America and are grown almost exclusively in Canada and the northern United States.

From bud to harvest,it takes 16 months to grow a cranberry. And it takes 200 cranberries to make one can of jellied sauce.

Most of them begin their lives in Wisconsin. Each year, 8 million barrels ($400 million worth) are harvested in the fall, with 95 percent of them processed into juices, sauces and other products, according toIowa State University.

At Ocean Spray, the lightest colored cranberries are used for sauce, otherwise it might look kind of weird. They’re cooked in a kettle 400 pounds at a time along with some water and added sugar.

The sweet, hot goo is then sent straight to the can, which is sealed and cooled with water. The sauce gels naturally in a day or two because of pectin, a complex sugar in the berries that's also used to make jam.

Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., sold nearly 9 million pounds of cranberries and sauces in 2013. Eight in ten of those purchases are made about a month before Thanksgiving.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter at @GavinStern or email him at