What Is a Huckleberry and What Does It Taste Like?

Learn all about the fruit made famous from classic literature and cartoons.

Huckleberries on bush
Photo: Tatyana-Ogarkova/500px/Getty Images

The term huckleberry has been made famous by Mark Twain's famous character Huckleberry Finn, and by the classic cartoon "Huckleberry Hound." Of course, all this begs the question: What is a huckleberry, exactly?

To be honest, the fruit was more of a thing of literature and legend to me until a few of my extended family members moved to Montana. Soon after, I was treated to packages of huckleberry coffee, huckleberry chocolate, and more that came in the mail every holiday, and I wasn't mad about it.

Turns out, the term huckleberry actually refers to several different plants that grow in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, particularly in Montana. These plants all belong to the Ericaceae family, a family of flowering plants all of which bear small berries that range in color from red to blue to black.

According to legend, when early American colonists first encountered the native American berries, they misidentified them as the European blueberry known by the name of "hurtleberry." They continued to call them hurtleberries until 1670, when the name was unintentionally altered to huckleberry.

Huckleberries' peak season is July through September. Like many other types of berries, they're perfect for making pies, jams, pancakes, and more.

What Does a Huckleberry Look Like?

Huckleberries bear many similarities to blueberries. They're small and round and range in color from red to blue and even black. They have noticeably larger seeds than blueberries, which can be somewhat bitter in taste.

What Does a Huckleberry Taste Like?

It depends on their color. Red huckleberries tend to be more tart, while darker purple, blue, and black berries are sweeter in flavor. They have a somewhat mild flavor, similar to that of a blueberry.

Huckleberries vs. Blueberries

There are many comparisons that can be made between huckleberries and blueberries, but they're not the same. To get technical, huckleberry refers to plants that grow in two genera: Gaylussacia and Vaccinium. Blueberries on the other hand only belong to the Vaccinium genus.

Scientific jargon aside, blueberries and huckleberries can be nearly identical in appearance, both ranging in color from red to purple to blue and even black. The taste of the two berries is also very similar, however, huckleberries tend to be more tart.

What's the best way to distinguish the two berries? Look at the seeds. Huckleberries have 10 large, hard seeds, whereas blueberries have lots of tiny seeds that are barely noticeable.

While blueberries can be found in the supermarket year round, huckleberries on the other hand are not grown commercially. Huckleberries hate domestication, and are traditionally harvested from the wild, making them much harder to come by.

Where to Find Huckleberries

So, where can you find these wild, nature-loving berries? One option is to go wild huckleberry picking, if you live in a region where they grow in the wild. This can be a laborious and challenging endeavor, and a dangerous one at that.

Huckleberries are one of the grizzly bear's favorite foods, and they're willing to travel great distances to get them. So be aware of your surroundings when going huckleberry picking, because you may be in a bear's favorite patch. And be sure you are picking with an experienced guide, as you do run the risk of picking poisonous berries.

If you live outside of the Pacific Northwest, you'll probably have a hard time finding huckleberries in your local supermarket or farmers' market. If you do live in the Pacific Northwest, lucky you! There are entire festivals dedicated to the fruit out there. Otherwise, you can order huckleberry products from online retailers. If you do get your hands on them this summer, be sure to freeze them for year-round use!

Huckleberry Benefits

Like other berries, huckleberries are a rich source of vitamin C and antioxidants, helping to strengthen your immune system and fight off diseases. And of course, vitamin C is important for the production of collagen, helping your skin to look softer and less wrinkled. They're also high in iron, helping to prevent deficiencies that can lead to anemia.

How to Eat Huckleberries

Use huckleberries like you would any other berry to make delicious muffins, pies, or cobblers. You can even use them for savory dishes like this lemony quinoa with chickpeas and huckleberries. Some find huckleberries unpleasant when eaten raw because of their mealy texture, so it's best to cook them instead. You can even preserve their tart/sweet flavor with jams and jellies.

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