Rowans in genus Sorbus are native throughout the cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The genus Sorbus includes about 100 species. Sorbus aucuparia is called rowan tree or European mountain ash, in other languages it is called red-fruited rowan, to distinguish it from the black-fruited rowan, which refers to Aronia melanocarpa, known as black chokeberry in English.
The flowers attract many pollinating insects, including bees and beetles. The bright orange or red berries ripen between August and October and attract birds. Sorbus aucuparia does well on rather poor soils which are unsuitable for growing apples.
The cultivated non-bitter Sorbus aucuparia var. edulis is referred to as “sweet rowanberry” in German, although they are quite acidic. Sweet rowanberries originated by the crossbreeding of wild rowanberries with other fruit species such as apples, medlars or black chokeberries.
However, lack of bitterness provides a distinct taste as compared to wild trees. The bitterness originates from the high content of parasorbic acid and is considered slightly poisonous. If the berries are cooked, the acid is transformed by heat to sorbic acid.
The berries from cultivated trees have only traces of parasorbic acid and a flavor similar to lingonberry, though with a slight tinge of almond, originating from rowanberry seeds. The content of sorbitol that diabetics can tolerate is high.2
Rowanberries are the best source of phenolic acids. Phenolic acids are plant metabolites widely spread through the plant kingdom. Recent interest in phenolic acids stems from their potential protective role, through ingestion of fruit and vegetables, against oxidative damaging diseases (coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancers).1 Besides, the contents of total flavonoids and ascorbic acid are also high.
Uses In Cooking
The rowanberry is tart and sometimes bitter and should not be consumed raw. Rowanberries are rich in vitamin C. They also make an excellent jelly for game, hams and pates, the flavor maturing as it ages. Rowanberry jelly can be used instead of redcurrant jelly in sauces and with lamb. Rowanberry jam with cognac tastes good with roasts.