A strawberry is so much more than the standard supermarket version may have you believe. Here, a guide to strawberry types you should try if you can find them. And if you like to DIY, you can always grow strawberries at home.
If you want to savor a strawberry at its absolute best, buying them directly from the source is the way to go. Not only is it a great way to support local business, you’ll also likely end up with superior produce. While the big box supermarket route offers convenience and can be less costly, results are hit or miss.
“The majority of people younger than 60 have never tasted a really good strawberry,” says Molly Gean who, along with husband Rick, is the owner of Harry’s Berries, an Oxnard, California-based farm with a justifiably rabid cult following. “Over the decades, the flavor has been bred out of strawberries in favor of sturdiness.”
Shelf stability is essential for these mass-produced berries and while the fruit that is picked may be visually appealing, looks can be misleading. “I’ve had some beautiful looking berries that I’ve gotten from the store… and I just can’t eat them,” says Andrew Zwald, Farm Manager at White Pine Berry Farm, a popular U-pick destination in River Falls, WI near the Minnesota border. “They look great but they don’t taste good.”
But if you’re buying farm fresh, you’ll likely end up with strawberries that have been plucked at peak ripeness. Though longevity is sacrificed (the fruit will remain fresh for only a few days), taste is maximized.
“Somebody who’s only gotten berries from the store and never has had one from a farm, it’s just unreal to see them try that first bite,” says Zwald. “They’ve just never tasted the flavor that you’ll get from a fresh picked strawberry.”
The sentiment is echoed by Gean. “Our customers have come to trust that the product they get from us is always going to be the best quality, that they’re going to be picked at their peak sweetness.”
Once you’re ready to take the farm fresh plunge, the next step is becoming familiar with the vast strawberry landscape. Just like apples and oranges, you can’t lump them into one singular category. In fact, there are hundreds of cultivars to choose from, covering a wide array of sizes, shapes, and flavor profiles.
Sorting through them all would certainly be a daunting task, so below you’ll find a few notable varieties to look out for, particularly during prime strawberry season over the spring and summer.
These smaller, rounder, early season berries are striking in color. “They’re red all the way through, without any white core or white shoulder at the top,” says Gean. But it’s the flavor, low acid and extremely sweet, that makes these beauties so coveted.
Gaviotas, which account for 90 percent of Harry’s Berries crop, are perfect on their own, but Gean also loves using them in salads (we recommend this Shaved Fennel and Strawberry Salad recipe). “It really balances well with a light vinaigrette,” she says.
A relatively new cultivar (the berry’s patent only dates back to 2006), Albions have become a popular choice for farmers since they are everbearing and plants can produce fruit for several months. Medium-sized and conical in shape, they are known for packing plenty of flavor.
“When you eat it and you swallow it, you can even feel the flavor in your throat. It’s just an essence,” says Guadalupe Rojas, farmer for The Abundant Table, a nonprofit organic farm based out of Camarillo, CA.
Jewels are the main attraction at White Pine Berry Farm, and for good reason. The berry, ruby red through and through, certainly lives up to its name in appearance and especially taste which Zwald likens to “strawberry flavor on steroids.” This June-bearing plant has a limited window so seek them out in the summer and enjoy them au natural or harness their jacked-up juices in homemade Strawberry Jam.
Mega-sized Fronteras are a reliable source of revenue for organic farmers. The plant is a prolific producer and even the later season can yield fruit of a size that would rival a “king” berry (the first berry of the season and typically the biggest) from any other. “What’s special about this strawberry is that it’s not as acidic,” says Rojas. “When you cut it and it’s still a little bit green, it still has a good flavor to it.”
It’s not just the Seascape’s distinctive elongated, pointy shape that separates them from the pack. “It’s more acidic and bitter than others,” says Rojas. He recommends waiting until April and May to grab a pint—the tanginess will subside as the berry’s sweetness shines.
“They’re really popular with pastry chefs because with sweetened desserts it makes a really great combination,” says Gean. Consider using its unique flavor profile to your advantage by whipping up strawberry shortcake. Or if you’d like something savory, it’s ideal for our Strawberry Salsa.
Mara Des Bois
These tiny little guys look like they’re pulled straight from a classic still life oil painting and make a strong case for “size doesn’t matter.”
“They taste like a cross of a really great strawberry and a Concord grape,” says Gean. “It has a really beautiful floral fragrance and a creamy texture.”
It’s no surprise that a sizeable portion of Harry’s Berries’ limited yield of the French cultivar ends up in the kitchen of local European chefs including a particularly notable name. “Wolfgang Puck gets them for his family,” Gean proudly reveals. “They’re his favorite.”