These little-known berries were once placed under a federal ban in the United States.

By Melanie Fincher
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David Speer/Meredith

Gooseberries are an established part of the produce aisle in Europe, but here in the U.S. they're still considered a re-emerging fruit crop. These round, grape-like berries are most famous for use in gooseberry pie, but aside from that most people don't know much about them.

What do gooseberries taste like? Where can you find them? How do you cook with them? And perhaps the most intriguing detail of all: why were they placed under a U.S. federal ban in the early 1900s? Learn the answers to all these questions and more.

What Is a Gooseberry?

Gooseberries are the edible fruit produced from gooseberry bushes. These berries are derived mostly from two species: the European gooseberry and the American gooseberry.

They are not to be confused with other fruits of the name "gooseberry" that don't fall under the horticultural classification of true berries, including cape gooseberries and Chinese gooseberries (also known as kiwi).

These fruits come in a variety of colors including yellow, green, red, purple, and even black. The darker the color, the sweeter the berry. They're similar in size and flavor to grapes with a translucent skin, and a juicy interior filled with many small seeds at the center.

Never heard of gooseberries? There's a reason for that. In the early 1900s it was discovered that some gooseberries (and currants) carried a fungal disease that killed white pine trees. A federal ban was enacted, which was later shifted onto individual state jurisdictions. Most states once again allowed the production of gooseberries, but even to this day some states still uphold restrictions on the crop, stunting their growth in popularity here in the U.S.

What Does a Gooseberry Taste Like?

The flavor of gooseberries depends on how ripe they are, with green gooseberries being more sour and red/purple gooseberries being more sweet. Most describe them as similar in taste and texture to grapes, but more acidic.

Gooseberry Health Benefits

In addition to their bright and juicy flavor, gooseberries offer an array of health benefits. Gooseberries are extremely low in calories and fat, but high in nutrients like copper, manganese, potassium, and vitamins C, B5, and B6. They are also rich in dietary fiber and antioxidants. However, it's important to remember when cooking with gooseberries that some nutrients will be destroyed during the cooking process.

Where to Buy Gooseberries

Gooseberries are not as readily available in the U.S. as they are in Europe. However, you might be able to find them at local farmers' markets and farm stands. Gooseberries are in season from May through August, peaking in July.

Some grocery stores carry canned gooseberries, which according to the USDA are nutritionally very similar to fresh berries. You can also find gooseberry pie filling and syrups in many grocery stores, but these are often packed with added sugars.

How to Eat Gooseberries

Red gooseberries are sweeter than green, but still carry a sour note. These are great for jams and pies, and would be a great substitute for rhubarb in any recipe. Green gooseberries are less ripe, but they can still be enjoyed for their sour flavor; use them to replace Granny Smith apples in your favorite pie.

Related: Browser our entire collection of Berry Recipes.