Why Does Cranberry & Turkey Pair So Well Together?

Turkey and Cranberry

The cooler temperatures and changing leaves signal that Thanksgiving is right around the corner. The traditional dishes at this fall season holiday gathering will undoubtedly feature the turkey and cranberry sauce duo

Turkey and cranberry sauce go way back. They have an undeniable connection from pairings that stem from decades, if not centuries, of Thanksgiving meals. But why is that? What is it about the combined flavoring or textures that pair so well together? It’s the same with chocolate and peanut butter, bread and butter, coffee and cream, and so on. 

The Historical Roots of Turkey and Cranberry on Thanksgiving

Cranberries are native to the Cape Cod, New England region of the United States. Eastern Massachusetts cookbooks from centuries past are filled with recipes using these small, tart red berries. It wouldn’t be unusual to see cranberry sauce, jams, and preserves being used by the region’s earliest settlers. Of course, we don’t know exactly what was served at the first Thanksgiving meal, but it is safe to speculate that cranberries had a place at the table around the same time period. Although cranberry sauce wouldn’t have used sugar to sweeten down the tartness, colonists may have used honey or maple syrup in its place.

Farm-raised and wild turkeys are also commonly found in the colder temperatures of North America. When they are baked, roasted, or smoked, they tend to dry out more easily than other types of meat. Pairing turkey with cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes and gravy allows for a delicious combination and easier digestion.

Salty and Sweet: Turkey and Cranberry Perfection

Turkey is often dry, salty, and bland, which makes it the perfect partner for something sweet and moist. Cranberries are not overly sweet. Their tartness pairs well with the more bland-tasting turkey. 

Our palates would be bored by singular tastes. Instead, we instinctively enjoy foods that combine the right types of textures and flavors in one exceptional bite.

Another perfect example of this is the saltiness of peanut butter and the sweetness of chocolate. 

Bread and jam as well. Anytime you pair dry food with a more liquid counterpart – or mix salty and sweet flavors – you have perfection!

Other Great Thanksgiving Day Pairings

Not only does turkey pair well with cranberries, but it also tastes great with many other food items, especially those with citrus or fruity aromas. Consider incorporating sweet potatoes, figs, Brussels sprouts, apples, etc. Butternut squash and fresh greens are also wonderful additions to a meal with turkey as the star. 

Thanksgiving is a flavorful time to try something new or put a new spin on traditional dishes. Turkey with cranberry sauce happens to be one of those timeless favorites that finds itself on millions of tables across the country each year. As you can see from what we’ve covered, it just makes sense it became a classic holiday food pairing.

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