How to find the perfect strawberry

Written by mekeisha madden toby
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Let your senses guide you to strawberry excellence

How to find the perfect strawberry
Strawberries and cream: the quintessential British summer treat. (Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images)

“Strawberries should have a pleasant smell. They should smell fresh and sweet and smell like strawberries.”

— Kevin Schooley, executive director of the North American Strawberry Growers Association.

Few love affairs begin with the nose. But that's what happened one Tuesday evening at a farmers market in Los Angeles. In April 2011, Katie Timm was buying veggies three stands down when the sweet smell of strawberries seduced her. The infatuation was so strong, Timm bought strawberries that day and then came back and purchased three more containers the following week. "They were calling me," said Timm, 23, a student nurse. "The farmer let me taste them, and I had to have more. And they're so juicy and red. "They look like they've been sitting in the sun."

Path to the perfect berry

If you’re a strawberry lover like Timm, the simplest way to find the perfect berry is know your berry a little better first.

To start with, strawberries are a non-climacteric fruit. This means that after a strawberry is picked, the flavour doesn’t ripen or get sweeter like with other fruits, says Kevin Schooley, executive director of the North American Strawberry Growers Association, based in Ontario, Canada.

“Strawberries must be mature and full of flavour when they are picked,” he said.

In other words, if you’re shopping for strawberries, and they don’t taste or smell very sweet or look very red, what you see is what you get. These berries aren’t going to get better during the warm car ride home. And once a strawberry is mushy and old, that doesn’t mean it is sweet and tasty.

Varieties

There are more than 600 varieties of strawberries, and there is no way – unless you’re a horticulturalist – you’re going to remember all of them. Have no fear, your friendly farmer will know. All you have to do is ask.

Strawberry picking season in the UK runs between May and September.

“We’ll explain what is in season and tell you why one strawberry tastes sweet and juicy and why the other is dry and not so juicy,” said Otis Clearwater, who sells berries for a number of farmers at farmers markets in Hertfordshire.

“When you go to the supermarket, they don’t tell you what variety you’re buying,” Clearwater said. “But when you come to the farmers market, we want you to know what you’re buying. We want you to taste them.”

Colour, size, smell & taste

“Perfect” is subjective, but good berries should have certain qualities, says Schooley.

“Strawberries should have a pleasant smell,” he said. “They should smell fresh and sweet and smell like strawberries.”

Colour is also important.

“Look for fully coloured strawberries,” he said. “When a strawberry is deep red all over, the berry has matured and the flavour is typically better.”

Size, on the other hand, can be deceiving. Some of the best strawberries are small but mighty. The tiny, fingernail-sized Alpine strawberry, also known as fraises des bois, for example, is super sweet and delicious.

It all comes down to taste. This can be tricky if you’re buying berries in a supermarket. In theory, you could pull one out and taste it, but the store owner and manager might not be too pleased. If you do it, do so at your own risk. This makes farmers markets the better bet.

“That’s what we do,” Clearwater said. “That’s how we sell so many. We let you taste the strawberries before you buy them.”

If you can't taste them, then ask the seller simple questions like, "What variety of strawberries are these?"

The answer won't guarantee that the berries will be sweet, but it's a start.

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