Why You Should Always Use the “Tip Top” Rule to Pick Out the Sweetest Strawberries

published May 18, 2024
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Strawberries in plastic clamshell container.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

As soon as it veers solidly into jorts season, you can catch me literally red-handed on account of how many strawberries I’m double-fisting or delicately slicing for topping the fluffiest of angel food cakes (a dream in dessert form). With years of leaving a trail of strawberry tops in my wake, I got to wondering: How does one really pick the best strawberries of the bunch? I set out to find answers from the experts who grow them.

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

Farmers have yet to lead me astray when it comes to picking out the best fruit, so I turned to the ones at my local market to figure out what to look for when hitting those U-Pick strawberry farms or a nearby grocery store. It turns out, the key is hiding in plain sight.

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

What Is the Tippy Top Rule for Strawberries?

According to my new farmer friend, Alfonso (shout out to Alfonso!), picking out the best strawberries comes down to checking how red a strawberry is underneath its little leafy hat. Deep, ruby red all the way to the top? That’s going to be an ultra-juicy, sweet strawberry. A little less than red (verging on pale yellow up to light and bright red)? That’ll be a less sweet, firm, slightly tart strawberry.

Of course, there’s plenty of gradation in this color scheme, but the sweetness of the berry is basically guaranteed if that redness reaches all the way up to the tippy top of those little leaves, otherwise known as the hull or calyx, and has bits of darker red patches scattered around the entire berry. 

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

Testing the Tippy Top Rule

My new friend Alfonso didn’t let me leave without trying at least six different strawberries to truly taste the difference. He picked out an ultra-red, cartoonishly perfect strawberry (super sweet, big on juice!) and then he bopped around this strawberry spectrum, to one that was firm, tart, and less juicy with a light red to reddish-yellow coloring up top. Eventually, he handed me one that was just right for my own purposes — red almost to the top, medium-juicy, perfect for macerating and eating with freshly made whipped cream all week long.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The best strawberry for you will also depend on your own tastes (and plans). Want some berries that can hang out in the fridge (in a paper-towel lined container, of course) or spend a little QT steeped in some sugar? Perhaps a less-red strawberry is your platonic ideal. These berries are picked slightly earlier than those more-ripe, ruby-red sweeties; they’ll stay firmer longer and give off a bit of juice gradually. Keeping their little green crowns at the tippy top until use will also help them stay fresher. 

In the mood for homemade jam or a three-ingredient smoothie that thrives with that capital S-Sweetness? I’d opt for those prized dark ruby-red stunners. 

Do you have a foolproof hack for picking out produce? Tell us about it in the comments below.