Red, heart-shaped, and studded with small seeds, strawberries are one of the most popular fruits in the world. They're grown commercially in a long list of countries, with China, the U.S., and Mexico leading production. The now-common garden strawberry didn't hit its stride until the 18th century, but local wild berries have been eaten since ancient Roman times. Modern strawberries are grown and eaten all over the world and can be served raw, cooked, or dried.
What Are Strawberries?
Strawberries are actually a group of fruits (genus Fragaria) containing several varieties and are part of the rose family. The typically red fruit has an early summer harvest, with the actual growing season depending on the variety and location. Growers in some regions like California and Florida harvest strawberries almost the entire year, while in other parts of the world the fruit is only ripe for picking for a few short months. They need little prep, and can be eaten out-of-hand. The price for strawberries tends to fluctuate through the growing seasons, with the cheapest berries available in the late summer.
How to Cook With Strawberries
Strawberries should be washed and drained just before eating. Unless you're eating strawberries out of hand, you will likely need to hull them. Hulling a strawberry means removing the green caps from the fruit. To do this, place the tip of your knife at the base of the cap, insert gently to remove only the soft white part at the base of the stem and slowly turn the strawberry. Once you come full circle, the top will pop right off without sacrificing too much flesh. If you like specialty kitchen gadgets, you can also use a strawberry huller, but a simple paring knife works just fine.
The berries are frequently eaten fresh, either out of hand, as part of a mixed fruit salad, topping a dessert like a fruit tart or cake, or in a savory salad. They can also be cooked into jams and compotes or baked into cakes and breads.
What Do Strawberries Taste Like?
One whiff of a ripe strawberry will tell you how it tastes. The berries are usually sweet and lightly tart, with firm and juicy but not tough flesh. The tiny seeds add a light crunch. Flavor, color, size, and texture can vary depending on the variety of strawberry. Smaller, redder strawberries sometimes tend to be sweeter and juicier, while large berries with hollow white interiors are often drier and less flavorful.
The uses for strawberries are almost endless. Whole berries can be dipped in chocolate and left to solidify for an indulgent treat, or used to dip in chocolate fondue. Add fresh, hulled berries to smoothies and milkshakes or simply serve with whipped cream. Strawberries can flavor cakes, frostings, pies, breads, tarts, ice creams, and more. They pair well with other fruits, especially tart rhubarb. Tossed with spinach, they make a fresh summertime salad.
Roast whole berries with balsamic vinegar for a sweet and savory dish or cook the berries to make a delicious jam. Dried and freeze-dried strawberries are often used as snacks and in products like granola bars.
Where to Buy Strawberries
Thanks to a long growing season in some areas and its propagation in the northern and southern hemispheres, strawberries can be found in groceries all year long. They are typically sold in one-pound or two-pound clamshells and priced per package. For the best-quality berries, look for them late spring through early summer. Locally grown berries, found at farmers' markets and sometimes available as "pick your own," are always the best tasting.
Choose brightly colored berries that are dry, firm, and plump. They should still have fresh-looking green caps attached. Avoid soft, dull-looking, or shriveled berries. Since strawberries do not ripen after being picked, avoid berries that are partly white as that means they are unripe. They should also have a pleasant strawberry aroma.
Strawberries can be grown at home in containers or garden beds. The plants need several hours of full sun everyday and the fruit is best when picked fully ripe, or a day or two after the berries have turned red.
How to Store Strawberries
When you bring the fruit home from the market, store the strawberries in a lidded container (partially closed), preferably in a single layer on a paper towel. Stash in the refrigerator for up to four days. If you notice any mold, remove the affected berries right away.
Strawberries are especially susceptible to moisture, so you shouldn't rinse the strawberries until you're ready to use them. To wash strawberries, place them in a large colander and rinse gently with cool water. Lay strawberries in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel or layer of paper towels and gently pat dry. You should also wait to hull the berries until it is time to eat or use them in a recipe. Eat hulled and/or sliced strawberries within a day.
To enjoy peak strawberries all year long, freeze some fruit for later. Freezing your strawberries is easy: Hull them, lay in a single layer on a baking sheet, and freeze them until they're solid (about six hours). Then transfer them to a resealable plastic storage bag and keep them frozen until ready to use. They'll keep for up to six months.
Nutrition and Benefits
Strawberries are high in water and a healthy part of any diet. In addition to being low in calories and saturated fat, strawberries contain plenty of antioxidants and vitamin C (100 grams contains 71 percent of the recommended daily value). They're also a good source of dietary fiber.
Note that strawberries frequently top the yearly Dirty Dozen food list. The list is comprised of foods that contain the highest levels of pesticides. Some organizations recommend buying organic strawberries whenever possible to minimize your exposure to pesticides.