Whether you consider it a tradition or kitsch, we can all agree that jellied canned cranberry sauce is a Thanksgiving icon. But it’s also one of the most divisive parts of the meal. Some say it’s the worst Thanksgiving side dish, while others profess their love for the can-shaped jelly.
Canned cranberry sauce sales have increased by 32% over the past two years, according to Instacart data shared with HuffPost. And last year, Instacart delivered so much cranberry sauce that if you stacked the cans, it would equal almost 1,200 Statues of Liberty.
“There are different reasons why consumers may prefer canned cranberry sauce, including tradition, flavor, nostalgia, texture, convenience or the fact that it can be served on a dish in the shape of a can, which adds an element of levity to the meal,” Instacart’s trends expert Laurentia Romaniuk told HuffPost.
“For older generations, the appeal of canned cranberry sauce may hearken back fond memories of childhood, whereas younger generations might prefer canned cranberry sauce for its hilarious shape and delicious red ridges,” said Romaniuk.
Romaniuk doesn’t like cranberry sauce in any form, but her family makes a homemade version every year for the sake of tradition. “The holiday wouldn’t be the same without it,” she said.
To find out what Americans really think about canned cranberry sauce, we asked five people in the food industry to share their thoughts on whether it’s part of their Thanksgiving feast.
‘It’s sort of like a sophisticated Jell-O’ — but high in sugar
Whitney Linsenmeyer, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said she and her brother love canned cranberry sauce. “It’s one of those nostalgic things that we grew up with, and we definitely have it every year at Thanksgiving,” she said. They serve it sliced in “little hockey puck shapes.” Canned cranberry sauce, she said, is “sort of like a sophisticated Jell-O, with that tart edge.”
As a registered dietician, Linsenmeyer, who’s based in St. Louis, noted that canned cranberry sauce tends to be high in added sugar (25g per serving), since cranberries are such a tart fruit on their own.
But Thanksgiving isn’t the time to worry about eating too much sugar, Linsenmeyer said. “I say eat whatever version you enjoy,” she said. “At my table, we have both the homemade cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries and we definitely have that delicious can.”
It’s a Thanksgiving side that vegans can enjoy
Canned cranberry sauce is one of Debonette Wyatt-James’ favorite parts of the holiday meal. And, as owner of My Mamas Vegan in Baltimore, she said it’s a traditional Thanksgiving side dish that vegans can enjoy without having to change the ingredients.
“The high-fructose corn syrup isn’t the healthiest, but it is vegan,” Wyatt-James said.
Wyatt-James serves jellied cranberry sauce with her restaurant’s holiday meals. The ruby-red rounds are “perfect for plating and presentation,” she said. It also brings back memories.
“During the holidays, I often look back to being a child and spending those times with my family,” Wyatt-James said. “Cranberry sauce is just one of those things that takes me back to that happy place.”
Cut it with a butter knife and ‘it leaves little ridges in the slices’
Since she was a child, Ashleigh Fleming, executive chef of Blue Jay Bistro in Littleton, North Carolina, has gotten a thrill out of slicing canned cranberry sauce.
“The lines that the jellied cranberry sauce has on it when it comes out of the can were pleasing to me to use as slicing guidelines,” Fleming said. “Then, if you used a butter knife to slice it — which typically was the weapon of choice I was given — it leaves little ridges in the slices.”
Fleming’s family continues to serve canned cranberry sauce, along with a homemade version spiked with bourbon and orange zest. And she still slices it the same way. “My whole family knows it’s my thing, so no one else touches the can,” she said.
‘It’s nice to see it, rather than actually eat it’
Kevin Shalin, a Little Rock, Arkansas-based food blogger at The Mighty Rib, doesn’t exactly hate canned cranberry sauce, but he doesn’t look forward to eating it. He prefers his wife’s spiced cherry relish.
Still, canned cranberry sauce makes an appearance on the Thanksgiving table and gets a few nibbles. “I think more than anything, it’s nice to see it, rather than actually eat it,” Shalin said.
Canned jellied cranberry sauce is easy to hate, though, Shalin admitted. He views it as the “antithesis” of all the Thanksgiving dishes that take time and effort to prepare. With cranberry sauce, you just open the can and it’s ready to serve.
‘Homemade or store-bought, it really doesn’t matter’
Marisa McClellan, author of “The Food in Jars Kitchen,” said she “unabashedly loves cranberry sauce.” Growing up, she mostly ate the canned variety. Now, she usually makes her own homemade cranberry sauce — though she sometimes molds it in a tin can.
“It recreates the experience of childhood Thanksgiving in a most satisfying way,” McClellan said. “Sometimes it convinces someone who insists that they only like canned sauces that they might actually like something homemade.”
When McClellan, who lives in Philadelphia, makes her own cranberry sauce, she can control the sweetness. After Thanksgiving, she uses the leftovers like any other jam.
“Homemade or store-bought, it really doesn’t matter,” McClellan said. “All that matters is whether you enjoy what you’re eating.”