Cranberry is a well-known functional food, but the compounds directly responsible for many of its reported health benefits remain unidentified. Complex carbohydrates, specifically xyloglucan and pectic oligosaccharides, are the newest recognized class of biologically active compounds identified in cranberry materials. Cranberry oligosaccharides have shown similar biological properties as other dietary oligosaccharides, including effects on bacterial adhesion, biofilm formation, and microbial growth. Immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory activity has also been observed. Oligosaccharides may therefore be significant contributors to many of the health benefits associated with cranberry products. Soluble oligosaccharides are present at relatively high concentrations (~20% w/w or greater) in many cranberry materials, and yet their possible contributions to biological activity have remained unrecognized. This is partly due to the inherent difficulty of detecting these compounds without intentionally seeking them. Inconsistencies in product descriptions and terminology have led to additional confusion regarding cranberry product composition and the possible presence of oligosaccharides. This review will present our current understanding of cranberry oligosaccharides and will discuss their occurrence, structures, ADME, biological properties, and possible prebiotic effects for both gut and urinary tract microbiota. Our hope is that future investigators will consider these compounds as possible significant contributors to the observed biological effects of cranberry.
Keywords: ELSD; UTI; Vaccinium; diet-microbiota interaction; prebiotic; xyloglucan.