Nutrition

Myths and Truths about Strawberries

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Wondering how to tell truth from fiction when it comes to strawberries? Let’s look at some of the common myths about strawberries—and the real truth behind them.

Myth: Strawberries are best picked just before ripening, because they’ll last longer and ripen upon standing.

Truth: Strawberries are nonclimacteric fruit; their tissues won’t continue the metabolic process of ripening after harvest. Consequently, underripe berries also lack the nutritional value and flavor of fully ripe berries. Because of this, always pick berries at the height of ripeness. Your local farm store already knows this, and will only harvest fully ripe berries. If you prefer to pick your own, look for plump, firm (but not hard) fruits with a uniform bright-red color. Strawberries that have green or white spots are underripe; those with shriveled, very dark skin or a “collapsed” look are overripe.  

 

Myth: The bigger the berry, the more flavorful.

Truth: When it comes to berries, size doesn’t indicate taste or juiciness. In fact, large berries are often less flavorful than smaller ones!

 

Myth: Berries should be the same size.

Truth: Grocery store strawberries are typically big and uniform in size, but this is purely a marketing tactic. Those berries have been bred for high volume and transportation hardiness, and lack both the flavor and nutritional content of locally grown berries of varying shapes and sizes. So don’t worry if your farm-store pint (or quart!) contains both small and large berries, and even or alien-looking berries with funny, irregular shapes. They taste even better than the “perfect” large-scale-grown berries!

 

Myth: Strawberries contain toxic pesticides.

Truth: Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of “dirty” fruits and vegetables that consumers are supposed to avoid because they contain pesticide residues. For the third year in a row, strawberries were ranked number one on the list (also on the list: healthful foods like spinach and apples). But the EWG list is misleading from both a scientific and a social standpoint.

The EWG’s approach to ranking has not been supported by any scientific organization, undergone peer review, or been published in a scientific journal. It also ignores the facts that plants produce natural pesticides to combat pests, and these residues exceed human-applied pesticides by ten-thousandfold. Pesticide residues in plants are generally quite low; only at very high levels are they considered toxic to the point of demonstrating negative effects on the human body. And pesticide applications vary greatly according to climate—for instance, berry growers in wet climates such as Florida typically need to apply pesticides more frequently than growers in New York, yet the EWG list only considers averages that may be skewed by location.

 

Myth: Strawberries don’t taste as good cold and shouldn’t be refrigerated.

Truth: While it’s true that the strawberry’s flavor comes out best when it’s at room temperature, cold storage is necessary for preserving fresh berries. Once you get them home from the farm store, place them in the fridge until just before you’re ready to eat them. Then either allow them to come to room temperature, or rinse them with warm water.

Also, if the container your strawberries came in is small and the berries are packed tightly together, transfer them into a larger container. More room between berries will slow down the natural spoilage that occurs as fruits pass their prime.

 

Myth: It’s a good idea to wash all your berries all at once, then store them for later.

Truth: Because moisture promotes the growth of mold, only wash the quantity of berries you need at the moment, and store the remainder unwashed.

 

Myth: Strawberries have vitamin C, but they don’t have many other healthful attributes.

Truth: Strawberries—and all berries—are nutritional powerhouses! In addition to a whopping 152 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C, strawberries also contain fiber and antioxidant compounds that are known to reduce the effects of oxidative stress caused by aging and a variety of diseases. These superfoods are also fat- and cholesterol-free, and low in calories. Want to learn more about the many health benefits of berries? Read on. 

 

Myth: Strawberries have too much sugar to be healthy.

Truth: Carbohydrates, in the form of naturally occurring sugars, are an important part of a healthy diet and a primary source of energy for humans. A cup of strawberries has about 11 grams of carbohydrates, just 4 percent of your daily allowance. Strawberries are also considered low-glycemic-index foods, so they have little effect on your blood glucose levels or insulin response, unlike foods that contain refined sugars.

If you have diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome, talk to your doctor about how you can incorporate strawberries into your diet in quantities that won’t negatively affect those conditions. Otherwise, strawberries are an excellent source of a variety of nutrients and can be a fantastic addition to a healthful, disease-prevention diet.

Winter Doldrums Got You Down? Give Yourself a Berry Boost!

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As the winter—with its cold, short days and long, dark nights—marches on, it’s not uncommon to start feeling low-energy, fatigued, or even down in the dumps. These feelings, plus our tendency to soothe ourselves with comfort foods during the winter months, can create stress that increases the number of free radicals in our bodies. An excess of free radicals can lead to a host of diseases and ailments, among them depression . . . and then the cycle perpetuates itself. But even though we still have a couple of months to go before we can start enjoying longer days and sunshine, we do have a potent weapon against the winter doldrums: berries.

Various studies have shown that the antioxidants in blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries can significantly decrease the incidence of depression. Blueberries can even combat genetic and biochemical tendencies toward the depression and suicidal feelings that are often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And because berries help prevent the release of cortisol, the well-known “stress hormone,” experts consider them one of the top foods for boosting mood and energy and improving concentration.

Start the day off on a positive note with a cup of green tea (another great stress reducer), followed by a berry-rich breakfast. If you love hearty breakfasts like pancakes and oatmeal, add a healthy serving of berries for a mood blast. But if a grab-and-go breakfast is more your style, try our Mood-Boosting Berry Smoothie. It’s vegan and gluten-free, and you can even prep the ingredients the night before and store them in the fridge (except the banana; it’ll turn brown in cold storage). If the berries are frozen, allow them to thaw at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, or in the fridge overnight. The next morning, toss everything in the blender, and you’re good to go!

 

Mood-Boosting Berry Smoothie

Makes 2 servings

1 cup mixed berries 

1 banana

1/2 cup fresh spinach

1/4 cup roasted unsalted walnuts

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add more almond milk until it reaches an easily drinkable consistency.

Are Frozen Berries as Nutritious as Fresh? You Bet!

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A May article in The Guardian posed the following question and answer:

Q: Fresh [food] is best – right?

A: In fact, studies on the relative benefits of fresh and frozen show no consistent differences.

As far back as the late 1990s, the Food & Drug Administration declared that frozen fruits and vegetables provide the same essential nutrients and health benefits as fresh. Meanwhile, a more recent story on Health.com notes, “Some of the healthiest foods in the market are in the freezer section.” 

So when it comes to those local berries you bought and froze during the summer, rest assured that enjoying them during the fall and winter doesn’t mean that your favorite recipes will lack for any of the health benefits that make strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries the superfoods they are. No matter whether fresh or frozen, berries are nutritional powerhouses that can contribute to a variety of positive health effects, from preventing to disease to maintaining a consistent weight.

The ability of frozen fruit and vegetables to retain their nutritional value has a lot to do with the quick-freezing and flash-freezing technologies that have been developed and refined since the 1920s. These days, frozen berries show no significant difference in nutrient levels as their fresh counterparts. They’ve also improved a lot in texture and flavor, thanks to manufactures’ desire to satisfy the savvy customer’s demand for healthier, better-tasting, and better-quality foods.

So take out a bag or two of your frozen farmers’ market berries and allow them to thaw overnight in the fridge. Add strawberries or blackberries to pancakes or acai bowls, fold blueberries into muffins and breads, and savor raspberries in sauces for meat and fish. Or enjoy enjoy a mix of berries in pies, tarts, trifles, and parfaits—without guilt or fear that they’re not as good for you as their freshly picked friends.

 

How to Pick the Best, Most Luscious Berries

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How to Pick the Best, Most Luscious Berries

The sweet little white blooms of our strawberry plants are the first—and most welcome—sign that summer is on its way. Since those happy flowers will transform into delicious fruits in just a couple of short weeks, we’ve put together this guide for how to pick the best berries.

1. Buy local! Strawberries that are shipped in from across the country or over country borders are picked prior to ripening, to keep them from deteriorating quickly. But berries generally don’t ripen after picking, and pre-ripe berries are often flavorless. To find a New York State berry farm in your area, visit our Find a Farm directory.

2. Look for bright color and firm flesh. Select only strawberries that are shiny and firm, with a rich red color and caps and/or stems that are a vibrant green and fresh-looking. Avoid berries that have white or green flesh around the cap or in the center of the berry.

3. Remember that size and shape don’t equal quality. Supermarket berries are bred and selected for their uniform appearance, but their flavor and texture can’t compare to their sweet, juicy farm stand cousins. So even if the berries have a funny shape or vary in size, as long as they’re ripe, they’ll still taste great!

4. Plan a midmorning harvest. If you’re planning to visit a U-pick, or pick-your-own, berry farm, time your trip for midmorning, after the dew has evaporated but the berries are still cool to the touch. Harvest the berries by holding the fruit with one hand and using the thumb and index finger of the opposite hand to snap the stem. Avoid grabbing the fruit and pulling downward on the berry; this can damage them.

Once you get home, take the strawberries out of the carton and look for any that might be partially squashed or have the beginnings of mold growth; remove these berries to prevent additional mold from forming. Wash only what you need for the moment, and refrigerate the unwashed remainder.

Refrigerated berries will generally stay fresh for up to a week. But between slicing them over granola, adding them to pies and muffins, using them in sweet-savory recipes, and munching on them by the handful, our berries never seem to last that long. . . .

Strawberries Show Promise as a Potent Weapon against Oral Cancer

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Strawberries Show Promise

As a Potent Weapon against Oral Cancer

With fresh, local strawberries due on farmers’ market shelves in May, it’s easy to enjoy the cancer-protective benefits of berries all year long.

As the strawberry-growing season heats up, researchers are putting renewed attention into studying the beneficial effects of berries, including strawberries, on cancer. The berries’ cancer-fighting potential may be even greater than previously thought, with their many nutritional compounds providing protection against—and, in some cases, even reversal of—oral cancer. 

The strawberry’s effectiveness against oral cancer first came to light in a 2011 study in China, which was led by cancer researchers at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. In the study, patients with mild to moderate precancerous lesions of the esophagus consumed one to two ounces a day of a drink made with freeze-dried strawberry powder, made from whole berries. After six months, the progression of the disease was reversed in 80% of patients, from moderate to mild or from mild to completely eliminated.

In April 2017, OSU scientists presented the results of another study, in which they administered a candy containing the equivalent of 2.5 cups of whole strawberries to a group of smokers and nonsmokers. Participants ate the candy four times a day for a week, while abstaining from eating other red and purple vegetables.

At the end of one week, saliva and tissue samples from the smokers who consumed the strawberry candy showed significant differences, including in “changes in the microbiome, or bacteria, and in the expression of genes, both which may play a role in cancer’s development,” according to a summary on Newsmax Health. Encouraged by these preliminary results, OSU researchers are currently recruiting 250 smokers for their new study.

Strawberries pack an array of antioxidant and anti-cancer compounds, including anthocyanins, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and ellagitannins. They’re also high in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, several B vitamins, folate, manganese, magnesium, copper, and omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to being a promising treatment for oral and other cancers, studies have found a positive correlation between berries and improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and improved blood-sugar regulation (and, thus, reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes).

Fresh, local berries often contain more nutrients than imported foods, and can easily be purchased in larger quantities and frozen for year-round enjoyment. To freeze fresh strawberries, simply remove the stems and caps, rinse well, and drain; then place the berries in a single layer on clean towels to dry. Place the dry berries in plastic containers or bags, and freeze until needed.

To find a local farm near you, visit our Find-a-Farm directory.

 

Member Spotlight: Tomion's Farm

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Member Spotlight:

Tomion's Farm, Penn Yan, NY

Farming has been part of the Tomion’s Farm family for so long that co-owner Alan Tomion is stumped when asked when they first established the business. He laughs and explains, “My great-grandfather started growing strawberries, and my father added vegetables. Then I expanded it with raspberries, hay, rhubarb. So it’s definitely been over 50 years. The farm has always been in our family.”

Located in the Finger Lakes in Penn Yan, the 160-acre Tomion’s Farm and store is open year-round, and sells strawberries, red raspberries, and blackberries, as well as a variety of fruits, vegetables, and live plants. The operation is primarily retail, with wholesale strawberry sales in the summer. The store also offers fresh baked goods and a selection of gifts.

Alan’s wife and co-owner, Crystal Tomion, runs the farm market, and oversees a handful of year-round part-time employees. Two of the couple’s sons have also joined the business.

While the invasive pest spotted wing drosophila (a common problem in the Northeast) posed a minor issue for the Tomions’ fall raspberries a few years ago, the farm’s proximity to the Geneva Experiment Station has allowed them to benefit from the expertise of Professor Greg Loeb, who has conducted research on the farm, and their strawberry crops have been unaffected. Instead, the biggest challenge has been finding summer laborers. Alan says, “There needs to be some kind of program for workers who aren’t citizens to be able to make a living and not be hassled,” and notes that tightening restrictions against noncitizen workers have reduced their seasonal prospects from 100 to about a dozen.

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Another challenge originates closer to home. The local Mennonite community, with their larger families and tradition of training their children as the next generation of laborers, are able to sell produce at a much lower price than farms with higher labor costs. “They’re stiff competition,” Alan admits.

Also stiff competition: grocery stores that sell peeled and washed produce and prepackaged dinners, and that target their marketing toward busy families and career people. “Older customers know that local berries have a lot more taste and nutrition,” Alan says. “But we’re slowly losing our older customers. Eating habits among younger people have changed quite a bit. They go out to eat more and buy more premade meals. And they don’t buy extra to freeze, like our older customers do.”

Still, Tomion’s Farm, which benefits from its high-visibility location on the busiest highway in the county, has succeeded for more than half a century by sticking to its mission of providing high-quality local foods. Alan and Crystal used to do more marketing and advertising, but ultimately decided that the cost outweighed the extra revenue that was needed to cover it. They now rely on their website and Facebook page, a few ads in local newspapers and magazines, and the word of mouth of customers, to spread the berry gospel.

Although Alan loves seeing first-time customers turn into repeat customers, for him, it all comes back to getting hands-on in the earth. “Farming is in my blood,” he says. “I just enjoy watching my crops grow.”

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