Food for Thought- Strawberries!

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The strawberry belongs to the genus Fragraria in the rose family, along with apples and plums. The name of the scientific classification was derived from the Old Latin word for fragrant.  The modern Italian word for strawberry is still “Fragola”. The fruit is widely appreciated for its characteristic aroma, bright red color, juicy texture, and sweetness. Strawberries have grown wild for millennia throughout the world. Today, there are over 600 varieties of strawberries that all differ in flavor, size and texture.

The strawberry is not classified by botanists as a true berry. True berries, such as blueberries and cranberries have seeds inside. The strawberry, however has its dry, yellow “seeds” on the outside (each of which is actually considered a separate fruit). On an average, there are 200 tiny seeds in every strawberry.

History:

There is a legend that strawberries were named in the nineteenth-century by English children who picked the fruit, strung them on grass straws and sold them as “Straws of berries”.  Another theory is the name was derived from the nineteenth-century practice (ands still today, although most farms use raised beds, enclosed in plastic) of placing straw around the growing berry plants to protect the ripening fruit. But the most widely held view is that the name Strawberry was derived from the berries that are “strewn” about on the plants, and the name “strewn berry” eventually morphed into “Strawberry”

Native American Indians called strawberries “heart-seed berries” and pounded them into their traditional corn-meal bread. Discovering the great taste of the Native Americans bread, colonists decided to create their own version, which became an American favorite that we all know and love .. Strawberry Shortcake.

The English and French also found strawberries used the beautiful heart-shaped berries to landscape their gardens. In fourteenth-century France, Charles V ordered twelve hundred strawberry plants to be grown in the Royal Gardens of the Louvre. Strawberries have long been associated with love and flirtation. At wedding breakfasts in provincial France, newlyweds traditionally were served a soup of thinned sour cream, strawberries, borage and powdered sugar.

Season:

Strawberries are available year round, but peak strawberry season is April through July. They are planted from the end of September through the end of October. The largest producing state, California harvests 83% of the strawberries grown in the U.S.. Florida is the second largest producing state. Ideal temperature for strawberry plants should not exceed higher than 78 degrees or lower than 55 degrees. Every strawberry plant is hand-picked approximately every three days. This is the time in which it takes for strawberries to complete their cycle of turning from green to white to red. There is no storage of fresh strawberries. After picking, they are rushed to coolers where huge fans extract the field heat. Then they are delivered to supermarkets across the country via refrigerated trucks.

Buying and storage:

 

– Strawberries do not ripen after they are picked, so look for ones that are shiny with a deep, red color and are firm, plump, and free of mold. Avoid ones that are dull in color or have green or yellow patches.

– Do not wash strawberries until you’re ready to eat them or use them – strawberries are like small sponges, ready to soak up all the water they can come into contact with, and once they’ve soaked it up they are quicker to turn to mush and rot away.

– If you plan on eating or cooking with the berries within a day and it’s not too terribly hot in your kitchen, you can leave the strawberries out at room temperature. For overnight storage, however, you’re better off refrigerating them.

– Line a shallow bowl or rimmed plate with several layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, place the strawberries in more or less a single layer on the towels, cover, and chill the berries until you’re ready to use them. Stored this way, very fresh strawberries will keep for several days. The closer you can create this dry (the paper towels soaks up excess moisture) and un-pressed (single layer) situation, the better.

– If you’re not planning on using the strawberries within a few days, you’re better off freezing them than trying to keep them all fresh and unblemished. Frozen strawberries are perfect for whirling in smoothies, turning into sauces, or baking up in pies, tarts, cakes, and other treats.

Nutritional Value:

– 1 cup strawberries contain 49 calories, 0.46 gm fat, about 12 gm carbohydrates, and 1 gm protein.

– Eight medium-sized strawberries contain 140% of the U.S. RDA for Vitamin C. One cup of fresh strawberries provides about 88 milligrams of ascorbic acid, which more than meets the Recommended Daily Dietary allowance of 45 milligrams for the average adult. Vitamin C is well retained when the strawberries are handled carefully. Capping, injuring, cutting, or juicing, however, will reduce the vitamin content.

– In addition, strawberries are good sources of folic acid, potassium and fiber.

Health Benefits

Strawberries are loaded with phytonutrients, plant chemicals that contain protective, disease-preventing, compounds, which have been shown to have health benefits. Phenolic compounds are complex organic molecules that a plant produces for protection against diseases and environmental elements. They are also responsible for a fruit’s color, flavor, and aroma.

Flavonoids are a type of phenol known to be potent antioxidants. They have also been shown in studies to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by inhibiting the oxidation of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad cholesterol”, improving blood vessel function, and decreasing the tendency for blood clotting. In addition, studies have shown that flavonoids decrease the inflammatory process in the body, which helps protect the heart.

How to enjoy

  • Add sliced strawberries to a mixed green salad.
  • Layer sliced strawberries and other fruit with plain yogurt to make a parfait dessert.
  • Add strawberries to a smoothie with yogurt and orange juice.
  • Mix chopped strawberries with cinnamon, lemon juice, and maple syrup to use as a topping for waffles and pancakes.
  • Create a coulis sauce for desserts by blending strawberries with a little bit of orange juice.
  • Place sliced strawberries on toast instead of jam.
  • Dip strawberries in antioxidant rich dark chocolate for a delicious and nutritious dessert.

 

-Aparna Ramadurai

7/9/13