I have fond memories of two summers spent in York, England in 1994 and 1995 carrying out research in a colleague’s lab. York is an interesting city, home of the York Minster(one of the biggest cathedrals in the country), quaint little streets, and city walls dating back
many centuries. It is oozing with history, and Inever tired of walking downtown among ancient abbeys and other sights of historical interest. Strangely enough, one of my fondest memories was visiting the local markets and buying large baskets of the best tasting strawberries that I have ever had, small and juicy and exceptionally sweet. I can’t even begin to estimate how many gallons I devoured during those two summers.

Now I just sigh at the remembrance. You see, strawberries used to be my favorite fruit, but no longer. Oh, they still would be, if only I could find some that even remotely tasted like those I enjoyed some 26 years ago. But, foolish me, I never seem to learn. I keep getting seduced by rich red colors of the packaged fruit, trying to resist their siren call, foolishly hoping that this time I will get lucky. Just this ONE TIME, I say to myself, they will actually be strawberries and not some wannabes masquerading as such. At home I tear open thepackage and pop one in my mouth…only to gag and scream, to no one in particular, “What have they done to the strawberries?!”

Sure, you can probably find some decent strawberries if you can discover one of those ‘pick your own’ places (only about a three-week season inearly summer), but store-bought? Imposters! They’re much bigger (I’ve seen some individual berries that could feed a family of four for several days…well, almost), they’re tasteless, and they have the consistency of apples. Blah! Yet people still plunk down $2.50 a pop. Do they not know any better?

It’s all about appearances. For the last 100 years or so, people have been breeding strawberries to achieve particularly desirable traits such as size, yield, color, firmness and insect resistance. These have all improved.  (Americans seem to be attracted to larger fruit, plus harvesting larger fruit saves on labor costs.) And as these traits are being perfected, others might suffer.  You know, minor “expendable” ones, like taste. Indeed, over the years, sugar content and favor have taken a substantial hit.

The bright red colors you see in supermarket strawberries fool us into thinking the fruits have been sun-ripened. Truth is, the intensity of color has NOTHING to do with how ripe or flavorful they are. Yes, their shelf life has improved, but they are never destined to ripen into tastefulness. What a shame you are not allowed to sample the fruit before buying. What would that do to sales?