Ingredient Intelligence

Here’s How to Pick the Best Carton of Strawberries

published Jun 17, 2017
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(Image credit: Linda Xiao)

There isn’t really anything sweeter than the arrival of strawberry season. For me, it not only marks the arrival of fresh fruit after a long, cold winter of imported citrus and cellared apples, but it’s also the kickoff to all the berries and stone fruit that’s soon to arrive. Now’s the time to binge on cartons of strawberries until your fingers are stained and your belly is stuffed. Here’s how to buy the best of the best, because the season is too short not to.

1. Buy local and in-season berries.

This is worth repeating: It’s strawberry season right now. Forget the cartons that line grocery store produce shelves in February — they’re just not worth the money. Out-of-season berries are shipped from thousands of miles away and never picked at peak ripeness in order for them to endure that journey. That means they’ll never reach their juiciest, sweetest potential. In-season, local strawberries, like the ones you can pick up at your farmers market or gather yourself at a U-Pick farm, are so perfectly ripe they are often still warm from the sun.

2. Look for bright-red color.

While strawberries will continue to redden a bit after you’ve taken them home, it’s still important for them to have a nice, deep red color when you buy a carton. Even if they continue to redden, the newly developed red color doesn’t mean they will get any sweeter than when you bought them.

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3. Give them a sniff.

If you walk past a stall at the market and you’re hit with the rich sent of strawberries — candy-like and just a touch floral — turn right around and buy a carton immediately. A great-smelling carton is almost guaranteed to be a great batch of fruit.

4. Size doesn’t always matter.

If you’re buying berries in season, perfectly sweet ones will come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the tiniest ones have the best flavor, or sometimes the larger guys pack that juicy punch. The best bet is if you can taste first before buying — but if not, look for the other indicators above.

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