Good for your brain, your body, *and* it makes you happy? Spotlight on: strawberries

Strawberry_BNC_Prathyush-ThomasWhether you make the fruit into jam to spread on your breakfast toast, slice the berries to top your springtime salad, sprinkle it with sugar and spoon it onto shortcake or biscuits, or freeze it in homemade ice cream or sorbet, fresh strawberries are coming into season here in Iowa, and we couldn’t be happier to celebrate their return to the farmer’s market (and our kitchen tables)!

There are more than 10 species of strawberry (official botanical genus name: Fragaria) that differ in flavor, size and texture, yet they all have the same characteristic heart shape, red insides and seeded outside together with small, leafy green hulls and stems on top.

And that intoxicating smell! Whichever species of strawberry you happen to find (at the berry patch, down at your neighborhood market, or in your own garden or kitchen), the sweet fragrance and taste of this favorite berry is out of this world.

Read on to learn some interesting facts about strawberries, and discover some of its lesser-known health and nutrition benefits:

Did you know…?
strawberries are not actually fruits.  Strawberries plants are runners, and the strawberries themselves come from the runners – they are not produced by seeds. Strawberries have an average of 200 seeds per fruit –  more on that in a moment.

Strawberries_for_sale_at_Mahabaleshwara rose is a rose is a … strawberry? Despite its name, a strawberry is not a berry, botanically speaking. Strawberries are actually a member of the rose (rosaceae) family. The strawberry is an aggregate accessory fruit, which means that the fleshy (fruity) part is not derived from the plant ovaries. Instead, each visible, bumpy seed covering the outside of a strawberry comes from one of the ovaries of the strawberry’s flower.

More fun facts:

  • Strawberries have a long history and have been enjoyed since the Roman times.
  • In medieval and Renaissance times, the whole strawberry plant was used medicinally, to treat depressive illnesses, fevers, sore throats and other maladies.
  • The yummy springtime treat of strawberries and cream is thought to have been popularized by Thomas Wolsey, a clergyman and government minister to King Henry VIII of England.
  • The USDA estimates that 94% of U.S. households consume strawberries, and the annual per capita consumption of fresh and frozen strawberries is 4.85 lbs.
  • California produces an amazing one billion pounds of strawberries each year. 23,000 acres of strawberries are planted in California each year, and each acre of California strawberries produces an average of 21 tons of strawberries per year. If all the strawberries produced in California in one year were laid berry to berry, they would go around the world 15 times.

Strawberries_in_basket_2018_UkraineNutritional highlights

Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C (more Vitamin C than oranges, even!) and K, and a good source of fiber, folic acid, manganese and potassium. They also contain significant amounts of phytonutrients and flavanoids – the chemicals which makes strawberries bright red.

Another benefit of strawberries’ high Vitamin C content: vitamin C significantly boosts the body’s ability to absorb non-heme (plant-based, not meat-based) iron. For vegans and vegetarians, the rich Vitamin C content in strawberries helps absorb the non-heme iron in foods like quinoa, lentils, white beans, and spinach.

The colorful deep-red pigments, anthocyanidins, in strawberries are thought to have potential health benefits, including prevention of inflammatory conditions and heart disease.

Those anti-inflammatory properties in strawberries help to eliminate free radicals and assist in your body’s natural detoxification process. In a study of obese adults with painful osteoarthritis in their knees, the participants who consumed about 50g of freeze-dried strawberries every day reported lower pain scores after several months.

Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consuming strawberries daily can help reduce total cholesterol levels — thus reducing your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Brain foods are a real thing—and strawberries are one of them. Another recent study, published in the Annals of Neurology, suggests that eating strawberries more than twice a week appears to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.

And speaking of your brain, strawberries apparently are also the kind of produce that makes you happiest. In a survey of 1,000 people conducted in 2016 for fresh fruit brand Driscoll’s, strawberries evoked the most feelings of happiness compared to other produce.

How to select and store fresh strawberries:

Choose berries that are firm, plump, unblemished and free of mold. Look for those that have a shiny, deep red color and bright green caps attached. Once picked, strawberries do not ripen further so avoid those that are dull, or have green or yellow patches. Wash shortly before preparing / using, and handle them with care. For optimal flavor, bring your strawberries to room temperature before serving.

Photo credits (top to bottom)
Strawberry BNC by Prathyar Thomas
Strawberries for sale at Mahabaleshwar – By Tarun.real – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Strawberries in basket – Ukraine By George Chernilevsky – Own work, Public Domain