Nothing could beat a fresh strawberry on a breezy summer day. But many people are finding that store-bought strawberries taste blander than expected. They buy a box of perfect-looking, red, glossy strawberries only to experience a watered-down flavor of the once-vibrant fruit. There are many factors causing this dull taste, but fortunately, there are several ways to pick out the sweet, juicy ones.
Bright Red But Bland
The strawberry breeding methods are to blame, according to Marvin Pritts, a horticulture professor at Cornell University and a berry crop specialist. Over the last century, people would breed the fruit to make them larger and more fruitful, but some other aspects may be lost along the way. Pritts and his research team investigated seeds from each of the last decades in the past hundred years, and planted them in a common field to see how each one would turn out. “And we’ve seen that size has increased. We’ve seen that yield has increased. We’ve seen that firmness has increased. But we’ve seen that sugar content and flavor has somewhat decreased.”
Also, that bright red color on bland-tasting strawberries may feel deceiving, but they are not artificially-colored. Rather, they could get picked while under ripe and turn red while on store shelves, but the flavor hadn’t had enough time to develop. “And, you know, the breeders don’t intentionally select strawberries that don’t taste good…” said Pritts. “So, sometimes they hit a homerun and end up with something that’s really high yielding and productive, and tastes really great, too. But a lot of times they don’t quite get there.” 
Another reason for a dull taste could be certain pesticides. A study by the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that two common fungicides used for strawberry crops could affect the cellular mechanisms and cause decreased sugar content, flavor, and nutritional value. To be specific, the natural sugar changed into acids, which lessened the sweet flavor. The fungicide treatment also reduced the levels of soluble sugars and nutrients like sucrose and vitamin C, which plays a role in taste and scent. A blind taste test showed that people preferred strawberries without this treatment. 
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How to Find Sweet Strawberries
Pritts suggests looking for strawberries grown locally. The closer they are, the more likely they were picked when properly ripe. The color inside could also speak volumes about the flavor. “Usually the better flavored strawberries are red through and through. A lot of the strawberries that aren’t quite so flavorful are white. They’re red on the outside but white on the inside.”
While you search for local produce, ensure it is strawberry season in your area. When they are shipped from long distances, they often have to get picked while underripe to ensure they survive the long trip. That’s why off-season strawberries can’t compare to the fresh, local kind. They are generally considered spring crops, but that can vary depending on the varieties and the local climate.
“Strawberries are in season from mid-May to early July in the eastern and midwestern northern states,” says Dr. Gail Nonnecke, a horticulture professor at Iowa State University and member of The North American Strawberry Growers Association. “Winter production occurs in the southern states, such as Florida in late November through early April. In North Carolina, strawberry season typically is in mid to late April through early June.” 
How to Grow Flavorful Strawberries
One way to ensure a crop of tasty, juicy strawberries is to grow them yourself. There are several varieties to choose from. For example, June-bearing ones only blossom in the spring while day-neutral types can bear fruit in the summer and fall. You can plant them in containers or directly into the ground. The area should have full sunlight and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Be sure not to overwater them; this could cause the sugars and flavors to dilute. 
Come harvest season, there are several signs that it’s time for picking. “It’s best to look for bright red strawberries with their green cap (botanically called a calyx) still in place,” explained Amanda Morgan from Eckert’s Inc., the largest family-owned and operated pick-your-own orchard in the U.S. “The fruit should have a noticeable strawberry scent, a medium firmness, and no mold. If the strawberries are too hard and partly white, that is an indication they are not yet ripe. If they’re soft, it means they are overly ripe.”
Keep the caps on the strawberries and only remove them and wash them just before eating. This will help maintain the berries’ firmness. Harvest them in the morning when it’s cool and place them immediately into the fridge. If you have a large crop, make strawberry jam or desserts like strawberry shortcake. You can also freeze them and turn them into smoothies or sorbet.
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- “Bigger, Blander, Blegh: Why Are Strawberries Worse?” NPR. Melissa Block. May 17, 2012
- “Are Your Strawberries Not Tasting As Good? Pesticides May Be Responsible.” Sci Tech Daily. American Chemical Society. March 3, 2023
- “Here’s How to Pick or Grow the Sweetest Strawberries Possible.” Better Homes and Gardens. Sheryl Geerts. May 2, 2022
- “Growing strawberries in the home garden.” University of Minnesota Extension. Emily E. Hoover. 2021