Ripe, tasty strawberry maybe
TBO.comUnless you live in a cave, you know it's high season for strawberries in Florida. They beam at you in the produce section at the supermarket, stacked together neatly in their plastic clamshells. At farmers' markets, small and medium red berries dare you to indulge.
Published: February 6, 2013
Published: February 6, 2013
It was at such a farmers market where some tempting medium-sized strawberries under a "Plant City Strawberries" sign beckoned me, and I bought a half pound or so to take home.
You can imagine my disappointment later that day when I bit down and tasted… nothing.
There wasn't the usual sweet taste associated with strawberries, or the mushy taste when you've held onto them past peak freshness. This particular berry was a beautiful rich red color, but it tasted dull.
It got me thinking about how a strawberry that looked so good, appeared to be fresh and was definitely in season could have such a bland taste.
To some extent, strawberry taste is in the hands of Mother Nature, said Gary Wishnatzki, owner of Plant City's Wish Farms, a giant in the strawberry business.
"By far, the flavor goes back to the weather," he said. "Strawberries need cool nights. Dry weather is also beneficial, and rain will affect the flavor."
This winter's mild weather and roller coaster of temperature changes hasn't been that good to enhance strawberry flavor, he said.
Warmer nights can zap strawberries of their sweetness.
Since the weather is out of our control, I sought other tips to consider when you buy strawberries.
I discovered that size doesn't matter when it comes to taste. "There are many small to medium strawberries that taste great," said John Lawson, co-owner of the Ruskin-based Hydro Harvest Farms, where I recently went to pick strawberries. Size goes back to variety, and many consumers want the gigantic size, but that doesn't mean they'll taste better.
However, color is important. "They should be firm but red. Strawberries don't ripen after you pick them. If you pick them and they're half green, they're going to stay green," Lawson said.
The ones you buy at the store will likely have a perfect red hue, but if you do any pick-your-own ventures, Lawson's point about color is crucial. In fact, if you're picking your own, you'll maintain freshness longer by cutting it from the stem as opposed to all the way down by the fruit.
Freshness also makes a difference, Wishnatzki said. If you've ever looked forward to a strawberry dessert, only to take them out of your fridge to find a mushy mess, you already know the freshness rule. Strawberries spoil within a couple of days, so buy only what you can use fairly quickly.
Wish Farms is so committed to tracking flavor, consumers who purchase their strawberries can provide taste feedback online. By typing in a number unique to the package, the folks at Wish Farms can track flavor to the field where it was picked, when it was picked and other factors, Wishnatzki said.
To further test strawberry flavor, my son and I did a taste test with two store-bought brands and the berries I had picked from Hydro Harvest. Both store-bought brands said they were grown in Plant City, as I couldn't find any grown elsewhere this time of year.
One brand had spoiled kind of quickly and tasted mushy, but I blame myself for not using it as quickly as I should have.
Within all three purchases, there were strawberries that tasted sweet and others that tasted sour. My son and I also dipped the berries in balsamic vinegar, milk and chocolate — separately, of course — to see how the berries absorbed the taste of each item. Naturally, chocolate won us over the most.
Bottom line: Wishnatzki's point about eating berries when they are as fresh as possible and Lawson's point about picking only ones that are red and ready to eat both seemed relevant, based on our taste test.