Once you try homemade cranberry sauce, you'll likely never go back to canned.

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Cranberry sauce is a Thanksgiving tradition across America, and despite what recent tradition suggests, it doesn't have to come in a can. You need a bag of fresh cranberries, some liquid and some sweetener to make your own cranberry sauce -- those are the basics.

Cranberries are a healthy food, and by and by making your own cranberry sauce at home, you control the freshness of your ingredients as well as the amount (and type) of sugar. They're rich in antioxidants, which helps reduce the effects of aging, and they may help protect you against developing stomach (peptic) ulcers by killing their cause, H. pylori bacteria. Many people rely on cranberries as way to prevent (or relieve) urinary tract infections. Preliminary research suggests cranberries may also help the body fight cancer cells and they may potentially help protect us from high blood cholesterol and from suffering a stroke.

The biggest benefits come from unsweetened fresh cranberries, which are in season from September through December (store them up to a month in the refrigerator if needed). But if the thought of unsweetened cranberries makes you pucker, consider a few additions (or substitutions) to that basic recipe. Most store-bought sauces and recipes for homemade sauce are sugar-heavy in an effort to sweeten up those tart berries. Substituting an unrefined or minimally processed sweetener to your sauce instead of using granulated white sugar or brown sugar will help add more natural foods to the ingredients list. Try 100-percent pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup, which is full of corn syrup and artificial flavors), honey, agave or 100-percent fruit juice (such as apple or apricot) as a sauce sweetener.

If you like your cranberry paired classically with orange, add a splash of orange juice in place of water, or add orange zest (or change things up with kumquat or lemon instead) to your sauce -- consider also adding a pinch of clove, cardamom, nutmeg or a cinnamon stick for sweetness and warmth. Want a creamier cranberry dish, more like a dip than a sauce? Stir in unsweetened or sweetened yogurt (try fruit flavors such as cranberries with raspberry, pomegranate or cherry for new flavor combinations). Adding whole fruits boosts the fiber content of your sauce, and yogurt gives it a boost of protein and calcium.

Add any fruits, wine and spices before sweetening as these can bring their own level of sweetness and complexity to a dish. Adding a sweet fruit juice to your sauce, for example, may significantly reduce your need for sweetener. And because cranberry sauce thickens as it cools, you really don't need to worry about thickening ingredients such as cornstarch or arrowroot powder.