Strawberries have grown wild for millennia in temperate regions throughout the world. While cultivation of strawberries doesn't date back this far, it still dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. It was not until the 18th century, however, when cultivation of strawberries began to be pursued in earnest.
In 1714, a French engineer sent to Chile and Peru to monitor Spanish activities in these countries "discovered" a strawberry native to this region that was much larger than those grown in Europe. He brought many samples back to France, which were subsequently planted. These plants did not originally flourish well until a natural crossbreeding occurred between this species and a neighboring North American strawberry variety that was planted nearby in the field. The result was a hybrid strawberry that was large, juicy and sweet, and one that quickly grew in popularity in Europe. The strawberry, like many other perishable fruits at this time, remained a luxury item only enjoyed by the wealthy until the mid-19th century. Once railways were built and more rapid means of transportation established, strawberries were able to be shipped longer distances and were able to be enjoyed by more people. Today, using a commonplace, layperson's definition of the word "berry," the strawberry has become the most popular berry fruit in the world. The fragrantly sweet juiciness and deep red color of strawberries can brighten up both the taste and aesthetics of any meal.
Even though strawberries were intrinsically known by cultures throughout the globe, they weren’t specifically understood. Wives tales, stories handed down for centuries, and recipes of traditional folk therapeutic practices were the means whereby people knew that there was more to them than just the wonderful taste. Native Americans apparently understood the health benefits of strawberries and were reported to have used an infusion of strawberry leaves for upset stomach and diarrhea. Anecdotes throughout Europe talked about the how the strawberry can positively affect illnesses such as gout, fevers, skin irritations, and longevity.
It has only been recently that the scientific community has come to understand health benefits of strawberries as a power house of nutritional foods and exactly why that is. All fruits and vegetables have powerful nutrition that our culture is not taking full advantage of. It turns out that, not only do they taste great, but they are among highest ranked fruits and vegetables in health-promoting antioxidants. Antioxidants help combat the damaging effects of free radical activity to cellular structures and DNA. Like the other fruits and vegetables, I recommend enjoying strawberries raw (not in baked/cooked desserts) because they provide you with the best flavor and the greatest benefits from their vast array of nutrients a well as their digestion-aiding enzymes. Peoples around the world have long been eating fruit for dessert, not only as a delicious ending to a meal but as a great digestive aid as well.
Strawberries provide an outstanding variety of phytonutrients, flavonols, hydroxybenzoic acids, hydroxycinnamic acids and stilbenes (including resveratrol). Strawberries are an excellent source of antioxidant-promoting vitamin C and manganese. They are also a very good source of heart-healthy folate, blood sugar-regulating dietary fiber and thryoid health-promoting iodine. Plus, strawberries are a good source of heart-healthy potassium, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin K.
The health benefits of strawberries are evident in inflammation disorders like asthma, atherosclerosis, and osteoarthritis have been treated for many years by drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin. We are learning that strawberries carry phenols that fight these disorders in much the same way by inhibiting the active enzyme that causes the inflammation but without irritating the stomach and intestinal lining that often causing bleeding.
The same chemicals and systems that protect our bodies from cancer and other diseases help stay the ravages of time. Science has found that almost all aging issues are cause and accelerated by inflammation and oxidation. That being said, it stands to reason that any natural whole food that offers not only great nutrition but loads of antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory would be a logical choice for long life and good health. Vitamin B complex is composed of water soluble B vitamins, or folates. This vitamin is critical for the production of new cells and their maintenance and health. One of the health benefits of strawberries is that the berry provides one of the highest amounts of folate per cup of all fruits. The health benefits of strawberries include antioxidants that help repair damaged cells and prevent further damage thereby keeping the immune system strong and further lowering the cancer risk.
Improved blood sugar regulation has been a long-standing area of interest in research on strawberries and health. However, scientists have recently discovered a fascinating relationship between intake of strawberries, table sugar, and blood sugar levels. As you might expect, excess intake of table sugar (in a serving size of 5-6 teaspoons) can result in an unwanted blood sugar spike. But you might not expect this blood sugar spike to be reduced by simultaneous consumption of strawberries! Yet that's exactly what researchers have discovered. With the equivalent of approximately one cup of fresh strawberries (approximately 150 grams), blood sugar elevations from simple sugar intake can be reduced. These health science researchers have further speculated that polyphenols in strawberries played a major role in helping regulate blood sugar response. This finding is great news for healthy persons wanting to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and also for persons with type 2 diabetes who enjoy fresh strawberries and want to enjoy them on a regular basis.
Virtually all municipal drinking water in the United States contains pesticide residues, and with the exception of organic foods, so do the majority of foods in the U.S. food supply. Even though pesticides are present in food at very small trace levels, their negative impact on health is well documented. The liver's ability to process other toxins, the cells' ability to produce energy, and the nerves' ability to send messages can all be compromised by pesticide exposure. According to the Environmental Working Group's 2011 report "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce," strawberries are among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found. Additional research in 2011 has also shown non-organically grown strawberries to contain a high number of pesticide residues, including residues from 14 different pesticides. Therefore, if you want to avoid pesticide-associated health risks, you will want to avoid consumption of strawberries unless they are grown organically. Be sure to check out your local Farmer’s Market or neighborhood fruit and vegetable stands for locally grown, pesticide-free strawberries, or ask your grocery store to carry organic strawberries.
In terms of ripeness, recent studies have found that both underripeness and overripeness can have an unexpectedly large impact on the phytonutrient content of strawberries, especially their antioxidant polyphenols. Fortunately, optimal strawberry ripeness can be judged by color. You'll want to consume your strawberries when their amazing pinkish-red color is most vibrant and rich in luster. Since they are very perishable, strawberries should not be washed until right before eating or using in a recipe. Do not remove their caps and stems until after you have gently washed the berries under cold running water and patted them dry. This will prevent them from absorbing excess water, which can degrade strawberries' texture and flavor. To remove the stems, caps and white hull, simply pinch these off with your fingers or use a paring knife. Despite their perishable nature, strawberries do appear to hold up well for a day or two in fruit salad if properly stored and chilled. This is good news for those of us who are pressed for time but love fresh fruit salad. And who doesn't since it's a perfect addition to any meal and makes a great snack or dessert?
Food scientists recently took a close look at storage time, storage temperature, storage humidity, and degree of strawberry ripeness and found significant differences between different types of strawberry storage. On average, studies show 2 days as the maximal time for strawberry storage without major loss of vitamin C and polyphenol antioxidants. It's not that strawberries become dangerous to eat or invaluable after 2 days, it's just that more storage time brings along with it substantially more nutrient loss. In terms of humidity, 90-95% has been shown optimal. Most refrigerators will average a much lower humidity (between 80-90%). Because air circulation inside the fridge can lower humidity, you may want to give your strawberries more storage humidity by putting them in your refrigerator's cold storage bins (if available). Those cold storage bins will help boost humidity by reducing air circulation. If your fridge does not have storage bins, you can use a sealed container for refrigerator storage of your strawberries. Optimal temperature for strawberry storage over a 2-day period has been found to be relatively cold--36F (2C). However, if you are storing sizable amounts of fruits and vegetables--including strawberries--in your refrigerator, you may want to consider setting your refrigerator to a lower-than-maximum temperature setting in the range of 36-38F (2-3C).
Strawberries retain their maximum amount of nutrients and their maximum taste when they are enjoyed fresh and not prepared in a cooked recipe. That is because their nutrients—including vitamins, antioxidants, and enzymes—are unable to withstand the temperature (350°F/175°C) used in baking.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Add sliced strawberries to mixed green salad.
Layer sliced strawberries, whole blueberries and plain yogurt in a wine glass to make a parfait dessert.
Blend strawberries with a little bit of orange juice and use as a refreshing coulis sauce.
Add strawberries to breakfast shakes to give them a more vibrant taste and texture.
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