Top 6 Myths About Berries

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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  • Dennis

    Yet another reason for me to find out where my local farmers market is!

    • Rick Lee

      We grow our own – there is a vast difference (flavour, freshness, juicyness) between our local “patch” berries and the store-bought variety (which come from miles away and must surely be picked unripe to get them to market without damage).

  • Elizabeth Hunter

    Last year I heard that keeping unwashed berries sealed up would make them last longer. Since then I have been dumping my farmers’ market berries from their boxes into a pyrex storage container with a plastic lid, or a Tupperware container — and it really works! Before you put them in the container get rid of any squished ones, moisture is the enemy and will start mold. I have kept fresh berries up to a week with no problem — maybe they would last even longer if we didn’t devour them so quickly.

    • Michelle

      Great tip! Thanks for sharing.

  • Pat

    Strawberries (by Edwin Morgan)

    There were never strawberries
    like the ones we had
    that sultry afternoon
    sitting on the step
    of the open french window
    facing each other
    your knees held in mine
    the blue plates in our laps
    the strawberries glistening
    in the hot sunlight
    We dipped them in sugar
    looking at each other
    not hurrying the feast
    or one to come
    The empty plates
    laid on the stone together
    with the two forks crossed
    And I bent towards you
    sweet in the air
    in my arms
    abandoned like a child
    From your eager mouth
    the taste of strawberries
    in my memory
    Lean back again
    Let me love you
    Let the sun beat
    on our forgetfulness
    One hour of all
    The heat intense
    The summer lightning
    on the Kilpatrick hills
    Let the storm wash the plates