I waded into a minor Facebook scrap yesterday. A friend of ours posted a photo of a strawberry the size of a small country, and bragged about how lovely it tasted. A friend of his immediately came back with the comment that as soon as he sees ‘Country of origin; Spain’ on strawberries, he avoids them like the plague, because he knows they’ll taste of nothing at all. The difference between the two perceptions of Spanish strawberries is that our friend bought his from the local street market, while the watery excuses for strawberries his friend refers to come from Morrison’s, Tesco, or any one of the other supermarkets or markets in the UK.
So, why the big difference? I asked this of my favourite stallholder on Lemon Tree Road Market on the Costa Blanca a few years ago. Two factors come into it – time of harvest and method of storage and shipping. Here in Spain, strawberries, and any other fruits and vegetables intended for local consumption, are picked when they’re ready to be eaten. That’s when flavour and antioxidant content are at their best. It’s all downhill from then on in. If the strawberries are going for export, they need to be harvested ahead of that, because they’re going to travel hundreds or maybe thousands of miles before they make it to the table.
To be absolutely certain said strawberries arrive looking good, they are shipped in cold storage, rather than at ambient temperature. When they finally arrive at their destination, they may look very nice, but the combination of the early harvest and the unusually cold storage conditions has robbed them of their flavour and vitamin and antioxidant content. That’s why Spanish strawberrries have the undeserved reputation of being tasteless.
If you doubt my word, just come to a Spanish market at the height of strawberry season – any time between January and July really, although that can vary – and smell the strawberries from a hundred metres or more away. Nothing that smells this good can be tasteless, and if you’re still not totally convinced, ask the stallholder for a ‘probar’ (taste).
The other great thing about Spanish strawberrieson home ground is that they’re so cheap. Forget about paying £2 or £3 for a 500 gramme punnet – think more 2 kilos for around €4, or less when there’s a glut. And although they may be ready to eat when you buy them, they’ll keep for a few days, because they’ve been stored as Nature intended.
Want to make your Spanish strawberries taste even better? Then drizzle a little Moscatel dessert wine over them and allow them to stand at room temperature for an hour or so. The Moscatel enhances the delicate flavour and encourages more juice out of the strawberries, so you can enjoy them at their very best.
If you really want to enjoy Spanish strawberries, come to where they’re grown. Don’t settle for second best strawberries that have been harvested way too soon and shipped around Europe in a fridge.