Is canned or homemade cranberry sauce best? Learn surprising facts about canned cranberry sauce that may help settle the debate.

By Betty Gold and Gina Bergman
October 10, 2019

On Thanksgiving Day, football fans may be rooting for opposing teams in the TV room, but the most intense rivalry happens in the dining room: Homemade or canned cranberry sauce? With this in mind, here are answers to all your burning cranberry sauce questions—What is cranberry sauce made of? How was cranberry sauce invented?—so you can enter the debate with all your facts straight.

Ingredients in Canned Cranberry Sauce

The high acid concentration in cranberries are what give them tartness—in fact, cranberry juice has the same pH as lemon juice. So in order for cranberry sauce to be palatable, it requires a fair amount of sugar or other sweetener. On the back of canned cranberry sauce you will find a short list of ingredients, generally cranberries, corn syrup (sometimes normal and high fructose), water, and citric acid (a preservative).

You might be wondering, wait, canned cranberry sauce has no pectin or gelatin? Then how do you explain the gelatinous consistency? Interestingly, cranberries themselves have a high pectin content, making the addition of added pectin or gelatin unnecessary.

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Health Benefits of Cranberry Sauce

Cranberries qualify as a superfood—they're super high on the scale of antioxidant-rich foods, outranking nearly every fruit and vegetable, second only to blueberries. Cranberries are also rich in vitamin C and fiber, as well as the metabolism-boosting mineral manganese. And yes, you reap all these benefits whether your Thanksgiving table has homemade or jellied cranberry sauce.

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How to Get Cranberry Sauce Out of a Can

For many proponents of cran-in-a-can, the best part is jiggling out a perfect cylinder of red gelatin ribbed with imprinted can lines. Ready to learn how? Step one: Open with a can opener. Step two: Turn the can upside down, hovering over a plate. Step three: Gently shake once or twice until the jelly slides out easily—plunk—onto the plate.

How to Serve Canned Cranberry Sauce

For most people on Team Canned Cranberry Sauce, the point is to keep the shape intact and simply slice into circles. This hits their nostalgia buttons, and also keeps the sauce contained so that it doesn’t run into the mashed potatoes and gravy. As an easy upgrade, you can also whisk a can of jellied cranberry sauce together with a can of whole cranberries, a little orange juice or zest, and maybe even some rosemary.

What Pairs Well With Cranberry Sauce

The reason cranberry sauce goes so well with Thanksgiving dinner? The tannins in cranberry skin bind with protein and fats—aka turkey, gravy, and buttery mashed potatoes—much like the way a tannin-forward red wine (Chianti, for example) pairs with a fatty steak.

Cranberry sauce is also great with ice cream or yogurt and granola, almost like a quick facsimile of a cranberry crumble.

And when it comes to leftovers, of course, cranberry sauce was meant to be mixed with a little mayo, spread on good toasted bread for a day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich. (If you made cranberry sauce from scratch and have fruit left over, check out these ideas for how to use them.)

How Long Does Jarred Cranberry Sauce Last?

If you bought too many cans of cranberry sauce, don't fret. According to our this list of expiration dates, unopened jams, jellies and cranberry sauce last for one year in your cupboard. That’s one thing to cross off next year’s Thanksgiving shopping list!

When Cranberry Sauce Was Invented

Ocean Spray says the first commercial cranberry sauce was canned in 1912 by Marcus L. Urann, a lawyer who also owned cranberry bogs. At that time, a cranberry grower in New Jersey named Elizabeth Lee was also boiling her berries to make a jelly-like sauce. Lee and Urann combined efforts to perfect the recipe, and the sauce became a Thanksgiving staple in the early 1940s.

How to Make Canned Cranberry Sauce

If you want to make homemade cranberry sauce, look no further than this classic recipe. And, if you’d like to please guests on both sides of the cranberry sauce debate, simply strain that homemade cranberry sauce using a fine sieve or food mill, add a little pectin, pour into an clean can with ridges, cover with foil, and let it sit in the fridge for 12 hours. To release your homemade canned cranberry sauce, run a butter knife around the sides of the jelly. If that doesn’t work, use a can opener to open the bottom of the can.

So Which Is Better, Canned or Homemade?

Like any good debate, there is no right or wrong answer, only very strong opinions. The solution is simple: Serve both versions, one at either side of the table.

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