Our series “Chew on This” serves up the flavorful history of food and how it has shaped the way we cook and eat today. The strawberry is sweet, juicy, and packed with flavor, it’s the epitome of vibrant, seasonal produce. Here are 10 facts about one of the world’s most perfect fruits, and the sweet May selection for Harry & David’s Fruit-of-the-Month Club.
1. Americans adore strawberries — and it shows
The United States produces the most strawberries in the world (more than 1.5 billion pounds a year!) and are grown in every state — California, Florida, and Oregon are the top three producers. As a nation, Americans eat an average of 8 pounds of fresh or frozen strawberries a year. Strawberry-flavored ice cream does not count…
2. Strawberries like to scatter
Their name is said to have been based on how they look when they grow — like strewn berries, because of all the runners, or tendrils, they send out when they flourish during the summer months. Historians have other theories on the berry’s etymology. Some say the strawberry got its name from the pickers who would carry the berries on straw or the fact that it looks like there are pieces of straw embedded in the fruit.
3. They may not be a fruit
That red juicy flesh we all crave is something botanists call “accessory tissue.” Kevin Schooley, executive director of the North American Strawberry Growers Association, explains that the actual fruit on a strawberry is each one of the tiny divot-filling seeds coating the outside of the berry. Each of these seeds is known as an achene — a small, dry one-seeded fruit that does not open to release the seed. The flesh of the strawberry holds these achenes (as many as 200 per berry) together in one very portable unit that helps them spread around the world naturally after being eaten by animals like birds or rabbits…or humans.
4. A rose by any other name
Strawberries may not have the same fragrant bouquet as red or pink roses, but the two plants are genetically similar. Botanists classify strawberries as members of the rose family. Their scientific name is Fragaria x ananassa.
“Most fruit actually comes from the rose family,” says E. Barclay Poling, professor emeritus at North Carolina State University and the executive director of the North Carolina Strawberry Association. “In addition to roses, the family includes many compact shrubs found growing naturally on the woodland’s edge, like blackberries and raspberries, as well as herbaceous plants such as the strawberry, which is technically classified as a perennial herb.”
5. When in Rome
During ancient times, strawberries were treasured for their medicinal properties. Back then, Romans thought of the berries as drugs and believed they could help treat everything from fainting spells and fevers to kidney stones and sore throats. They also thought strawberries cured depression and bad breath.
The ancient Romans’ affinity for the strawberry extended beyond its mythical health benefits. They incorporated strawberry shapes and patterns into numerous architectural elements within their buildings, including carving designs into altars and church pillars.
6. Strawberries are steeped in romance
In France, strawberries are considered an aphrodisiac and are served to newlyweds during traditional wedding breakfasts in the form of a creamy sweet soup. In the United States, chocolate-covered strawberries are a go-to treat around Valentine’s Day and special events like anniversaries. And, in parts of Europe, baked treats like strawberry shortcake are a classic sign of affection for married couples and families.
Part of strawberries’ connection to love and romance is thought to be nutritional. Strawberries contain high levels of nitrate — a compound that increases blood flow and sends higher levels of oxygen to muscles, creating a flushed sensation similar to the rush you get when you’re feeling smitten with a new partner.
7. Fittingly, they’re also a symbol of love
In addition to making you feel hot and flustered, strawberries also get their incredible appeal at least in part due to their shape and color, which trigger a visceral attraction for many individuals.
“Strawberries are a lovely red heart-shaped fruit. They are a favorite of most people and evoke positive emotions and memories,” says Chris Christian, senior vice president of the California Strawberry Commission.
Because of this, strawberries are also commonly used as a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love. This link led to the long and still ongoing legend that if you break a double strawberry in half and share it with someone, you’ll fall in love with each other.
8. Rainbow connection
Strawberries come in colors other than red, and we’re not talking unripened green berries.
“Aside from the traditional red, there are pink, white, and yellow strawberries that have slightly different fruity flavors,” Christian says.
You can also find specially bred strawberries that come in purple, blue, or even black colors. And these berries aren’t genetically modified mutant creations either. Instead, Christian explains that “strawberry varieties are developed with traditional plant-breeding techniques, crossing one flower with another.”
9. A strawberry bath works for the body
The fashionable Madame Tallien, a prominent social figure during the French Revolution, was known to bathe in fresh strawberry juice. It’s been reported she used 22 pounds of strawberry fruit per bath.
10. The Godzilla of strawberries
The typical Grade A strawberry weighs about one ounce. But even the heftiest berries you’re likely to find will be outweighed by a monster strawberry grown by a farmer in Japan that has the Guinness World Record for World’s Heaviest Strawberry.
In 2015, Koji Nakao from Fukuoka, Japan, grew what many have dubbed the Godzilla of strawberries — a mutant strawberry that was three or four individual strawberries fused together while growing, creating one giant berry. It weighed 8.82 ounces, stood 3.15 inches tall, and had a length of 4.72 inches.
Nakao insisted that his daughter be the first person to try the freak berry. She immediately declared it was “oishii,” or “delicious.”