The Strawberry, Fresa, is one of the most popular berry fruits in the world. There are more than 600 species of Strawberries that differ in flavour, size and texture yet they all have the same characteristic heart-shaped, red flesh and seeded coat together with small, regal, leafy green caps and stems that adorn their crowns.
Strawberries are not actually fruits as their seeds are on the outside. Strawberry plants are runners and are not produced by seeds. They have an average of 200 seeds per fruit and are actually a member of the rose family.
Strawberries have been enjoyed since the Roman times and are native to many parts of the world and in many places still grow wild. It was not until the 18th century that cultivation of Strawberries began in earnest. In 1714, a French engineer sent to Chile and Peru to monitor Spanish activities in these countries ‘discovered’ a Strawberry that was much larger than those grown in Europe. He brought samples back to France, although these plants did not originally flourish well until natural crossbreeding occurred between this species and a neighbouring North American Strawberry. The result was a hybrid Strawberry that was large, juicy and sweet and one that quickly grew in popularity in Europe.
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K as well as fibre, folic acid, manganese and potassium. They also contain significant amounts of phytonutrients and flavanoids which makes Strawberries bright red. Strawberries have been used throughout history to help with digestive ailments, teeth whitening and skin irritations. Their fibre and fructose content may help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing digestion and the fibre is thought to have a satiating effect. Leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or used to make tea.
The vibrant red colour of strawberries is due to large amounts of anthocyanidin, which also means they contain powerful antioxidants and are thought to protect against inflammation, cancer and heart disease.
Choose Strawberries that are firm, plump, unblemished and free of mould. Look for those that have a shiny, deep red colour and bright green caps attached. Once picked, Strawberries do not ripen further, so avoid those that are dull, or have green or yellow patches. Wash and handle them with care. Bring to room temperature before serving.
In Spain you can buy Strawberries for much of the year, but the best flavoured ones are produced locally. Farmers need to protect emerging berries from the muddy soil. They do this by spreading a layer of straw around each new plant – hence the name Strawberry.
The very fragile nature of Strawberries means that great care should be taken in their handling and storage. Before storing in the refrigerator, remove any Strawberries that are damaged so that they will not contaminate others. Place the unwashed and unhulled berries in a sealed container to prevent unnecessary loss of humidity. Strawberries will maintain excellent nutrient content if properly stored in a refrigerator for two days. Strawberries left at room temperature or exposed to sunlight for too long will cause them to spoil. To freeze Strawberries, first gently wash them and pat them dry. You can either remove the cap and stem or leave them intact, depending upon what you will do with them once they are thawed. Arrange them in a single layer on a flat baking sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the berries to a heavy plastic bag and return them to the freezer where they will keep for up to one year. Adding a bit of lemon juice to the berries will help to preserve their colour. While Strawberries can be frozen whole, cut or crushed, they will retain a higher level of their vitamin C content if left whole.
Strawberries are a common allergen. If you have allergies to birch pollen, you are more likely to develop a secondary food allergy to Strawberries. Most common symptoms are experienced in the mouth and throat – tingling, itching, watery eyes and runny nose.