Like perfect summer tomatoes, strawberries are among those produce items that are at their absolute best when they’re freshly picked, perfectly ripe and in season. Strawberry season is heartbreakingly short: just a few weeks right as the heat of early summer starts to catch hold in late May and early June. Let's dig into their health benefits, how to choose and keep them fresh, and even a few tasty ways to enjoy them.
Health Benefits of Strawberries
For such a sweet, indulgent treat, strawberries have a positive nutritional profile. They’re loaded with Vitamin C and also high in folate and potassium plus antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. With a low glycemic index, strawberries satisfy the sweet tooth without wrecking the body’s blood sugar balance, and 1 cup of fresh whole strawberries has just 46 calories. Note that strawberries can be an allergy trigger for some people.
How to Choose & Keep Strawberries
Fresh strawberries, especially ripe locally grown ones, are delicate and perishable, so you should take care with them. (And we won’t judge if you munch a few as you’re cleaning them.)
If you’re picking your own berries, look for those that are bright red, shiny and blemish-free. In store, choose berries that are dry but not dried out, bright red and fragrant, in packages without condensation inside. Some varieties have white “shoulders” underneath the leaves, which is OK, but avoid berries that are mostly pale.
When buying packaged berries in the grocery store, opt for organic. Strawberries top the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce that, when conventionally grown, are high in pesticide residue. PRO TIP:
To extend the storage life of berries (including fresh blueberries and raspberries), give them a “bath” in vinegar and water, using 1 cup of distilled vinegar to 3 cups of cold water. (The vinegar prevents mold from forming.) Drain and rinse the berries in a colander under running water. Then place several layers of paper towel in a salad spinner and gently spin the berries until they’re completely dry, working in batches if necessary.
Store berries on a layer of paper towel in a lidded plastic container — leave the lid unsealed to allow a bit of air to circulate. Keep them refrigerated for up to 1 week. Always remove stems and leaves right before eating; this keeps berries fresher and more flavorful longer.
I never thought to freeze strawberries until I had a glut of them last season (I find packaged frozen strawberries to be mushy and flavorless). But when I had more than I could eat in a few days, after a slightly overzealous picking session last May, I selected the smallest, tastiest berries and washed, trimmed and completely dried them. I spread them on a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with waxed paper, then froze them. When they were solid, I transferred the berries, making sure they weren’t stuck together, to quart-sized freezer bags. Months later, when I scattered the still-frozen tiny berries on my cereal, I was surprised how delicious they were.
Tasty Ways to Enjoy Strawberries
It’s hard to beat just-picked strawberries right out of the basket you’ve brought home from the farm. They’re perfect sliced and piled on top of lowfat vanilla yogurt with a crumble of granola on top. A few other delicious ways to enjoy fresh strawberries:
- Sliced on a salad of baby spinach or butter lettuce, with a handful of sliced almonds and a balsamic vinaigrette.
- Slow roasted at 250° until they’re meltingly soft and spooned over vanilla frozen yogurt or whole-grain pancakes.
- Pickled in Champagne vinegar with peppercorns and fresh herbs—makes a delightful accompaniment to a cheese board. Get my recipe for Quick Pickled Strawberries here.
- Infused with a bit of sugar and vinegar into what’s called a shrub. Drinking shrubs, a centuries-old way to preserve fruit, are delicious mixed with soda water or stirred into a cocktail. Get my recipe for Strawberry Shrub here.
- And of course, the traditional fresh strawberry pie, strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam and these cute little strawberry trifles.
- Finally, when you’re trimming the leafy tops off your strawberries, don’t throw them out! Add strawberry tops, fresh mint or basil leaves and lime wedges to a pitcher of filtered water to infuse.
Did you know? Your primary care provider can help with additional suggestions for healthy foods to incorporate into your diet. Don't have a PCP? Schedule an appointment online!