This is what I’ve learned about berries: big plump, symmetrical ones that won’t squish when packed in a grocery bag, won’t get moldy before you’re ready to eat them and won’t leak juice, are to be avoided.
Here are the six “truths” I used to tell myself:
1.Big ones will be sweeter. It is incredibly satisfying to bite into a monster strawberry, but puffed-up berries usually have minimal flavor and fewer nutrients than smaller ones. They tend to have a lower skin to water ratio and it’s the skin where much of the nutrients hide. Tiny wild blueberries, for example, are far more flavorful than larger ones and can be bought frozen year round.
2.You can’t tell if it’s juicy until you bite into it. If you can’t see juice when you buy it, you won’t taste it when you eat it. Look for signs of juice in the carton. Low juice berries are an indicator that the berry was bred for a long shelf life.
3.The ones that keep the longest are the freshest. I find that the farmers market ones I buy go bad quickly (a good thing!); it’s because they are picked the day before I buy them, meaning they are at the height of their flavor and nutritional value.
4.Color does not vary much. The deeper the color the higher the antioxidant level (part of the reason blueberries and blackberries are so high); once you start noticing color, you’ll see that especially with strawberries and raspberries, there is a huge range of color.
5.Symmetrical berries are a sign of high quality. Big, uniform berries are grown for high volume, commercial purposes to ensure a consistent look in the package and on plates of catered sandwiches. Farmers market berries are much uglier than store bought.
6.Organic is always best. Many of the organic brands in stores are run by huge conglomerates (eg. Driscol’s). Though pesticide-free, these berries are grown to withstand long-distance travel and an extended lay-over in a warehouse. The ideal body type for this job? Big and firm. Many organic berries are delicious (and if the choice is commercial v. organic, go organic) but if it’s local v. large scale organic, I’d go local–the pesticide level is usually low and many farms are pesticide-free even if they are not officially labeled organic.
And a tip for prolonging your berries once you bring them home – don’t wash them until just before eating as moisture speeds up the spoiling.
Other berry thoughts or advice? Drop them in “Comments”…
Photo: Lopsided strawberries from Union Sq Farmers Market,NYC. Copyright ©Michelle Madden
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