Strawberries test reveals health concerns

We tell you how to choose the sweetest and tastiest — but our test found pesticide residues in most conventionally grown strawberries.
 
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  • Updated:29 Jan 2008
 

03.Where to buy and how to pick the best

If you still fancy strawberries after all that talk of pesticides, where will you find the sweetest and tastiest ones? All too often strawberries look wonderful in the shop but turn out to be bullet-hard and tasteless when you get them home, with a percentage of them usually inedible because of rot or other blemishes.

This is why we also put our strawberries to the test for edibility, checking them for blemishes, rot and ripeness (see How we tested).

  • On average, the strawberries from independent fruit shops had the fewest blemishes, with 70% blemish-free vs 55% from the big supermarkets.
  • The fruit from organic specialists had the least rot: only 0.7% had significant rot compared with 3% of the supermarket fruit.
  • The ripest strawberries came from small suburban organic food market, with on average 80% completely ripe. This compared with only 56% from independent fruit shops and 78% for the two big supermarkets.

What to consider

There are several factors to consider when buying strawberries:Ripe strawberries

Strawberries taste best when they’re fully ripe

Unlike some fruit, such as bananas, strawberries don’t develop their full flavour unless they’re allowed to fully ripen on the vine. But often they’re transported over long distances and wouldn’t survive two or three days jolting in a truck unless they were picked under-ripe.

So under-ripe, flavourless fruit is the price we pay for having strawberries from interstate when there are no local ones available.

Shopping in Sydney, we found strawberries from NSW, Queensland, Victoria and WA. On average the fruit from WA stood out as being the least ripe. The strawberries from NSW growers were the ripest.

If you want flavour and sweetness, look for fully ripe fruit. There’s a trade-off, though, as ripe fruit is more likely to have blemishes. But you can cut any blemishes off — a small price to pay for tasty strawberries.

Strawberries taste best when they’re fresh

Strawberries start to lose flavour as soon as they’re picked, so the longer it takes to get them from the farm to your plate, the poorer the flavour. And the flavour deteriorates faster than the strawberries themselves. They can still look perfectly OK a week after harvesting, but they don’t have much flavour left.

A punnet of strawberries usually has a sticker showing the grower’s name and the district where the strawberries were grown. You can improve your chances of getting tasty strawberries by avoiding fruit that’s travelled a long distance. Don’t necessarily expect strawberries at your local produce market to have been locally grown. You might strike it lucky, but there’s no guarantee.

At the three markets where we bought strawberries, only one stallholder had local fruit that he’d grown himself. At another Sydney market we only found strawberries grown in WA.

Some varieties taste better than others

It may not be obvious when you buy them, but strawberries come in different varieties (just as apples can be Golden Delicious, Fuji, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, and so on) and some varieties have a better flavour than others.

Breeding programs have recently been producing some really tasty new varieties of strawberry, but as far as the consumer’s concerned the effort’s been wasted. None of the strawberries we bought had the variety stated on the label or displayed in the store. When we asked sales staff at each of the 15 outlets where we bought strawberries, only one could tell us the variety (the market stallholder who’d grown them himself).

Occasionally you might see the variety on the small label stuck to the punnet, and there’s a space for marking the variety printed on the cardboard trays in which the punnets of strawberries are supplied to shops. But on most of the trays we saw at the Sydney Markets the grower hadn’t bothered to mark the appropriate square.

Varieties to look for
  • Rubygem from Queensland
  • Camarosa (a variety originally from California)
  • Millewa from Victoria

Picking the best

Here’s how to boost your chances of getting strawberries that taste as good as they look.

  • Strawberries need a chill temperature at night to develop flavour and sweetness. This means they’re at their best in spring and early summer.
  • Choose the ripest fruit. Really ripe strawberries are sweetest and more likely to have a good flavour. Fortunately the punnets are usually transparent — look for strawberries that are red all over, with no white bits. They should have a bright red colour and the leafy stalk (the calyx) should look fresh and green; if they’re a dull, dark red with shrivelled stalks they’re over-ripe and best avoided.
  • Look for fruit that’s been grown locally (check the label on the punnet). Fruit that’s travelled a long distance will have lost much of its flavour. If there’s an organic or farmers’ market in your area, try buying your fruit there.
  • Flip the top off the 'clam shell' packaging and sniff — a good strawberry aroma is an indication that they’ll be tasty when you get them home.
  • Ask about the variety. Rubygem, Camarosa and Millewa are especially flavoursome ones.
  • Store strawberries in the fridge and eat them as soon as possible. And for the best flavour, take them out of the fridge an hour or so before you eat them.
 

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