Johnny Morgan, Reames, Elizabeth S. | 1/4/2011 1:14:57 AM
News Release Distributed 04/13/10
After the winter freezes that delayed the early crop, it’s now time to enjoy Louisiana strawberries.
Louisiana berries are naturally sweet and tasty, and locally grown berries require less shipping time than those grown out-of-state, helping to ensure a fresher, higher-quality product, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.
“Strawberries are the fifth most consumed fresh fruit in the United States, and consumption more than doubled in the past decade,” Reames says.
Although spring marks the height of the Louisiana strawberry season, Louisiana strawberries are now often available for six months each year, from late November to early May.
Reames says most of the Louisiana strawberries are produced in Tangipahoa and Livingston parishes, although they are grown commercially in several others as well.
“Strawberries are naturally high in fiber, vitamin C, folate, potassium and antioxidants, and they’re low in calories and practically fat- and sodium-free,” she says. “Ounce for ounce, strawberries have more vitamin C than citrus fruit. One cup of whole strawberries provides 46 calories, 85 milligrams of vitamin C and 2.9 grams fiber.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, strawberries have been used in several types of animal and human health studies over the past 10 years, including cancer, heart disease and anti-inflammatory and aging processes.
“These studies show that compounds present in strawberries have healthful properties,” Reams says. “Strawberries contain a unique phenolic group, ellagotannins, which are effective in preventing the initiation of esophageal cancer.”
Strawberries also have been shown to help prevent inflammation and platelet clumping and help confer strength to capillaries in the human body.
Reames recommends serving luscious Louisiana berries fresh at breakfast, lunch or dinner and freezing some for later enjoyment.
She says there is an art to selecting fresh strawberries.
“Berries should have a full red color, bright luster and firm, plump flesh. Choose fully ripe berries. Strawberries do not ripen after being picked. The caps should be bright green, fresh looking and fully attached,” she says. “Avoid berries with large uncolored or seedy areas or those with mold.”
Reames says strawberries should be used as soon after purchase as possible.
“Take berries home immediately after purchase,” she says. “Remove the berries from their market or store container, leave the caps on the berries, sort and spread them gently in a flat container and store them in the refrigerator immediately.”
Just before serving, wash them in gently flowing cold water in a colander, then drain them and remove the caps.
As a rule of thumb, one basket of strawberries equals one to 1 1/3 pounds of fresh berries, and one pound of strawberries yields 1 2/3 cups of whole, stemmed berries, two to 2 1/3 cups of sliced berries or 1 2/3 cups of crushed berries.
Reames says strawberries can be frozen with or without sugar.
“To freeze strawberries with sugar, simply sprinkle sugar over whole or sliced berries. Use 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar to one basket of sliced berries, depending on tartness of the berries and your taste preference,” she explained.
Continue the process by turning the berries gently with a large spoon until all are coated with sugar. Let them sit five to 10 minutes to make their own juice. One teaspoon of commercial produce color protector mixture stirred in with the sugar will help protect bright red color and vitamin C.
Reames says berries can be packed in moisture-vapor-proof bags or containers leaving 1/2-inch of space at top. If a rigid container is used, place a small piece of crumpled waxed paper or freezer paper on top to hold berries under the juice. Seal the container airtight and label. Freeze quickly at 0 degrees.
To freeze whole berries without sugar, place them in single layer on a tray or baking pan, cover lightly and freeze quickly until firm. Then, remove them from the pan and package them airtight in moisture-vapor-proof containers or bags. If they are to be used for preserves or jam, Reames suggests measuring and bagging appropriate amounts before freezing.
A third way to freeze strawberries according to Reames is with non-nutritive sweeteners.
“Follow package instructions for the equivalent amount of sugar,” she says. “Mix 1/2 teaspoon of a commercial produce color protector with the sweetener and two teaspoons of water and stir this into each quart of berries. Package them in moisture-vapor-proof containers or bags with headspace, label and freeze.”
For additional information about strawberries, contact the LSU AgCenter office in your parish.