The season for strawberries: Facts about the world’s favourite berry

 

 

Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Farmers' Market

(Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Farmers’ Market)

Strawberries are the most popular seasonal berry fruit in the world, and it’s not hard to understand why: they’re sweet, juicy, refreshing and their punchy pink-red brightens fruit dishes, jams, salads and baking.

But they’re much more than the pretty faces of the fruit world. They’re health-protecting powerhouses with a long history of cultivation.

Why they’re healthy

(All data in this section comes from www.whfoods.com)

  • Among commonly eaten (U.S.) foods, strawberries rank 27th among the 50 best antioxidant sources, based on a serving size of 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces. (Antioxidants are nutrients and enzymes which inhibit the oxidation — and decay — of other molecules and are believed to play a role in protecting against disease.)
  • When only fruits are considered, strawberries come in fourth, behind blackberries, cranberries and raspberries.
  • When common servings sizes for all commonly eaten foods are taken into account (100 grams is too big a serving size for spices and seasonings, for example), strawberries rank third in total antioxidant capacity, behind blackberries and walnuts.
  • One cup of strawberries contains: over 112% of your daily required intake of vitamin C, 28% of manganese, 11.5% of fibre, 8.6% of folate, plus other minerals and nutrients.
  • Research suggests that strawberries: support the cardiovascular system and prevent cardiovascular diseases; help regulate blood sugar and decrease risk of type 2 diabetes, and; play a role in preventing certain types of cancer, including breast, cervical, colon, and esophageal cancers.

How to buy, handle and store strawberries

  • As much as possible, buy organically grown strawberries. The conventionally grown fruit routinely lands on the Environmental Working Group’s yearly Dirty Dozen list for pesticide contaminated produce.
  • Strawberries are highly perishable, so store them unwashed and use them quickly. Studies show that strawberries kept longer than two days lose significant amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants.
  • To freeze strawberries, gently wash them and pat dry. Arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, put the berries in a heavy plastic bag and return them to the freezer where they’ll keep for up to a year.
  • Strawberries can be frozen whole, cut or crushed, but they’ll retain more vitamin C if left whole. What’s more, commercial processing can dramatically lower the fruit’s nutrient content. Fresh or carefully frozen strawberries are more nourishing – and tasty.
  • Choose berries that are firm, mold-free, and deep red with their green caps attached. Under- or over-ripe strawberries contain fewer antioxidants and other plant nutrients.

Where they come from, how they grow

Information in this section comes from Edible: An Illustrate Guide to the World’s Food Plants, published in 2008 by the National Geographic Society.

  • Wild strawberries have been around for more than 2,000 years.
  • Most commercially grown strawberries available today come from Fragaria ananassa, which resulted from a South American species brought to Europe from Chile in the 1700s and hybridized with a North American variety.
  • Because they’re so perishable, strawberries remained a luxury food for the wealthy until the the advent of rail transportation in the mid-19th century.
  • The fruit part of the strawberry is actually the seeds on the outside; the flesh is part of the flower.
  • Strawberry plants have a life span of five or six years, but after the third year, their fruit is less tasty and they’re more prone to disease. New plants are bred from seed and spread by runners that take root and produce clone, or daughter, plants.
  • It’s not clear how the strawberry got its name. A popular view is that it derives from the practice of using straw as mulch to keep the berries clean and off the ground, but the name predates actual cultivation of strawberries. Another theory is that wild strawberries grew near hay fields and were found in the straw after the hay was harvested.

For more on strawberries, check out my guest post Strawberries from field to fork on the Ottawa Farmers’ Market website.

What’s your favourite way to eat strawberries?

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