Time to dig deep into a single ingredient again. This time the focus is fully on strawberries. What is it, how does it grow, how to use it and everything else there is to know about this beautiful and delicious berry.
Strawberries is another one of my favorite berries, but to be honest most berries are favorites of mine. They just taste amazing, look beautiful and are just as delicious to eat as they are or to use in cooking. This article will start out with me trying to sort out all the facts about them but if you want to go straight to cooking with them you can scroll to the bottom of the post to find a few great recipes with strawberries.
I never really investigated more into the world of strawberries so I thought it was time to do that. Let’s find out everything we can about this lovely little berry.
What are strawberries
The trouble starts right out of the gate. There are different types of strawberries. What we get when we shop in the supermarket is the Garden Strawberry also known as Fragaria Ananassa. This is a group of hybrid species of Fragaria.
The group Fragaria collects all varieties of strawberries including both the commercially grown Garden Strawberry and other species that if found in a market is called wild strawberries.
If we start by looking at the Fragaria group there are 20 described species. Besides those, there are plenty of hybrids and cultivars. The species of strawberries can be found in most parts of the world like the Fragaria Yezoensis from Northeast Asia, Fragaria Daltoniana from the Himalayas, Fragaria Bifera from Europe and many others. For most species, there are sub-species, hybrids and cultivars. Especially within Fragaria Ananassa since this is the most commercially grown species.
To sum up the species we have the main group Fragaria with 20 described species, one of these is the Fragaria Ananassa which we know as Garden Strawberry.
Is strawberries a berry?
No, it’s not. At least not from a botanical view. This discussion is always a bit tricky because it’s easy to mix what is a botanical term and how we use and call fruits and berries. A good example on that is the fact that both tomatoes and bananas are technically berries but we call the tomato a vegetable and the banana a fruit.
The strawberry is of course a berry in the way we use it. If we get technical about it they are not true berries. It’s an aggregate accessory fruit. This means that the fruit flesh is grown from the receptacle and not from the plants ovaries.
You can easily see this difference with other berries is you look at a strawberry, the seeds sit on the outside of the berry and not on the inside like it does in a blueberry for example. While we are talking blueberries I think you should check out this article.
So let’s sum up. The strawberry is a not technically a berry but that’s how we use it, so if you not a botanist, who cares?
How are strawberries grown
You can plant the berries with seeds but this method is mostly used by homegrowers. In commercial growing of strawberries are made using root plants or plugs from so called runners. This is the way strawberries grow themselves and if you grow them in your garden you’ll find out quickly that strawberries tend to take all the space they can.
At home, you can grow them in a regular vegetable land but also in pots, greenhouse and even indoors with the help of LED lights.
Commercially grown berries are mostly grown in plasticulture system. With this method the soil beneath the plants are covered in plastic to prevent erosion and weeds, this also keep the soil warmer which helps growth.
They are also grown in a similar method but instead of plastic hay is used, this can be combined with plastic tunnels, which is similar to greenhouses to make the season longer and start earlier in spring.
The season for strawberries is short. To help make the season longer most commercial growers have multiple variations of strawberries in production for the season to be as long as possible.
Harvesting of strawberries
Strawberries is a delicate fruit so harvesting is done by hand. Unlike many other types of fruits and berries, not all berries ripen at once so the plants are often picked daily. The caps are left on the berries and often with a piece of the stem as well.
They do not continue to ripen after picking so they need to ripen fully while attached to the plant. The berries are only rinsed with water right before consumption.
When berries are harvested for processing like jam they are washed and sorted in the production plants.
As I already mentioned the main type of strawberry that we can find in stores today is the Fragaria ananassa. But there are a number of varieties within this one. If you Google strawberry varieties you might find lists with hundreds of different types. All of them have their own pros and cons. Some don’t grow runners, some ripen late, ripen early, as more or less resistant to different diseases and so on.
The most common ones grown in the US are Honeoye, Earliglow, Allstar, Ozark Beauty, Chandler, Jewel, Seascape and a few others. The names of strawberries might vary between languages and countries so if you’re on the hunt to buy strawberry plants for your garden the best way is to ask in a local gardening shop. They usually have a few different types available.
Green, White, Blue and Black Strawberries
If you search the internet you might stumble upon strawberry seeds with weird colors like green, white, blue and even black strawberries. As far as I found there is no such thing as blue or black berries, this is just someone trying to make a quick buck online so don’t buy them. You will not be growing strawberries that will be blue or black.
Green strawberries do exist, they have been quite popular in restaurants the last few years. But green strawberries is not a species on its own. It’s simply unripe strawberries. Personally not a favorite of mine but try it if you’re curious.
White strawberries however do exist. They have been cultivated to not develop the red color when they ripen. This is because most allergies from strawberries is caused by the red color. Look for plants and seeds in your local garden shop. The growing of white strawberries aren’t very high yet so you need to be lucky to find them in stores.
So to conclude green strawberries are unripe berries, white berries exist and blue and black berries are made up.
How long have we’ve been eating strawberries?
For a long time, that’s the short answer. The wild strawberry was cultivated as early as the 1300’s in France, by then it was by King Charles V, I’m guessing he didn’t do the actual plant work though. Then it was plants from forest wild berries that were used for cultivation. The berry was cultivated in a similar way in Chile until 1551 when the Europeans arrived and messed things up. It was most likely grown for a long time before that.
The cultivation of today’s garden strawberry or Fragaria ananassa as we are talking about started in France in the late 1800’s, before that it was all about cultivating the wild strawberry species.
Like many other fruits and vegetables strawberries are healthy. A great source for Vitamin C and a number of smaller amounts of other vitamins and minerals. If you Google health benefits of strawberries you’ll find that this berry seems to be able to solve most things. Anti-inflammatory, anticancer, lowering cholesterol and many others. Problem is that most of these are not scientifically proven. So when it comes to the health part I always try to go by my own homemade version. All fruits and vegetables are good for you, just don’t over consume them.
That’s about it for the health part, eat them because they taste great, the health part is just a bonus.
How sweet are they?
Strawberries are quite sweet, fresh ones have about 8% of sugar which is fairly high. I put together a short list of a few fruits and berries below so you have something to compare to. Naturally, the sugar amount is always a little different depending on the type of berry and how ripe it is.
Sugar content in %
Red Apple 10.3%
So with this, I think I covered the essentials when it comes to strawberries, now let’s take a look at the most important thing, how to eat and cook with strawberries.
How to cook with strawberries
Most of us simply eat strawberries as they are, what can beat some fresh strawberries with cream anyway, right? I’m quite conservative when it comes to this and most of the time that’s how I eat them. Fresh with cream or maybe like a jam with a few pancakes.
But you can make a few twists with strawberries. I picked out four recipes that I really like. Fresh strawberries with lime and Mascarpone cheese, a strawberry and rhubarb milkshake. Those are quite classic, to add something a bit more fun I also added a strawberry cocktail and marinated strawberries with goat cheese, all four recipes are delicious so do try them out.
All the recipes have been published here before and I just kept the essentials in the recipes here. For more photos and details use the link in each recipe name.
Goat cheese, chèvre
Cut the berries in half och quarters, add some balsamic vinegar and carefully combine. Let the strawberries marinate for half an hour. Cut the cheese in small bite size pieces. Add a piece of strawberry for each piece of cheese, add some freshly ground black pepper, serve.
serves 4 as a dessert
500g / 18 oz fresh strawberries
150g / 5 oz Mascarpone cheese
1 tsp vanilla sugar, or extract
1 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
12 meringues, store bought
Rinse and clean the strawberries and cut them in half or quarters. Whip the mascarpone with the milk and icing sugar and vanilla sugar using an electric whisk. It should have the texture of a more heavy whipped cream. If it gets too thick you can add a bit of extra milk.
Serve in bowls, start with adding the berries. Then add a big spoon or two of the Mascarpone cream, crush the meringue with you hands on top and then grate the lime on top. Serve.
Serves 4-6 persons as a dessert
For the poached rhubarb
8 stalks of rhubarb
2 dl / 0.85 cups white wine
2 dl / 0.85 cups water
1 dl / 0.4 cup sugar
1 vanilla pod
10 fresh strawberries
2 tbsp sugar
For the shake
500g / 18 oz vanilla ice cream
200g / 7 oz cream cheese
2 dl / 0.85 cup milk
4-6 strawberries, for serving
Start with poaching the rhubarbs. First, rinse them and cut away any bad pieces. Then chop into smaller pieces. Bring water, white wine, sugar, strawberries and the vanilla bean to a boil. Add the rhubarb and leave to simmer under a lid for about ten minutes. Set aside and leave to cool.
Then make the strawberry puré, this is dripped onto the inner sides of the glass when serving the shake. It doesn’t add that much to the flavor but it looks very nice. Just blend the sugar and strawberries into a smooth puré using a blender or a handheld blender.
Now it’s time to make the shake. First, lift out the strawberries and rhubarb from the poaching liquid and add to a blender. Then add the ice cream and cream cheese and finally the milk. Mix for about one minute and then check the flavor. Add a little bit more milk or ice cream if you want to adjust the thickness.
Then drip some of the strawberry puré onto the insides of the glasses and then pour the rhubarb milkshake into glasses. Decorate with a few slices of fresh strawberries. Serve.
8 big fresh strawberries
4 tbsp white sugar
Add the berries and sugar to a mixer. Mix until you have a smooth sort of strawberry smoothie. Freeze.
The Ice Pop Cocktail
1 strawberry ice pop
2 oz / 6 cl white rum
1 oz / 3 cl lime juice
1 oz / 3 cl simple syrup
1 slice of lime
shaker or mixing glass
Add white rum, lime juice and simple syrup to the shaker. Stir with ice for 30 seconds. Cut the strawberry in a few pieces, add them and a slice of lime to the glass. Strain the drink into the glass. Grate a little bit of lime zest on top, add the strawberry ice pop.