Bigger and Blander: What’s Up With Strawberries?

published May 21, 2012
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

A few summers ago, I visited the incredible farmers’ market in Portland, OR and perused the stalls bursting with fresh produce. It was late in the morning and the vendor selling pints of strawberries had almost sold out. I snagged one of the last pints and sat down to enjoy a sweet snack. One bite into The Best Strawberry of My Life, and I knew I’d been fooled by grocery stores for years. Bigger, blander strawberries are the norm these days and what gives?

I think back to just how that fresh strawberry tasted in Portland: just as filled with sweet flavor as the bright red color would suggest. Now, compare that with taking a bite of a giant supermarket variety. How can something that looks so good be so devoid of taste? And why do we keep buying it anyway?

NPR took a close look into the massive strawberry operation in California — the state grows more than 80 percent of the US supply of strawberries — and found an abundance of productivity. The strawberry fields produce staggering amounts of the fruit, with the advanced technology to support it. However, crop yields come at the cost of other important aspects of the fruit, like taste. Even the inflated size of strawberries in recent years has ties to the bigger business at hand; bigger strawberries are easier, and thus faster, for workers to pick from the field than smaller strawberries. And, no surprise, chemicals play a huge role in the whole process, even to some degree for organic strawberry growers, who buy their plants from nurseries that use chemical fumigation.

One more reason to get to your farmers’ market early this summer and find an old-school stand with small and delicious strawberries.


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(Images: Flickr user jronaldlee licensed for use under Creative Commons)