Ingredient Spotlight: Strawberries

Strawberries are a beloved, versatile fruit with a bright flavor. Delicious eaten on their own, they also shine in salads and beverages or as a garnish to liven up toast, yogurt or a humble bowl of cereal. Strawberries are also the perfect ingredient for simple summer desserts like shortcake, pies, tarts and galettes, and can easily be incorporated into ice cream and other frozen treats.

Strawberries also happen to be very nutritious and are a delicious way to support overall wellness. A one-cup serving of strawberries (about eight medium-sized berries) provides 46 calories, 3 grams of fiber and are a good source of vitamin C. They also contain powerful health-promoting phenolic compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. For example, strawberries are one of the richest sources of "master antioxidant" glutathione, which has been shown to protect against cell damage and support immune system function. Berries have also been noted for their potential to protect against disease and cognitive decline.

Though they are available for purchase in the U.S. year-round, peak strawberry season is between April and June. There are three main types of strawberries: Day-neutral (which can bear fruit as long as the temperature is consistent), everbearer (which fruit in the spring) and Junebearer (which fruit in the spring), with Junebearer being the most recommended variety for home gardens. Within those broad categories there are many more types, such as alpine strawberries, which fall under the everbearer umbrella and are similar to modern strawberries but produce a much smaller berry that's only the size of a fingernail.

Strawberries can tolerate many types of soil, but where they are placed matters a lot, as they generally require a lot of sun, about six to 10 hours per day. Fruit is typically harvested four to six weeks after blossoming.

Whether they're purchased in a grocery store or at a farmers market, look for plump berries with bright green leaves and make sure the fruit is vibrant red in color. Since strawberries don't continue to ripen after harvesting, what you see in the container is essentially what you get. If you see a lot of green or white on the berries, it's a sign that they aren't quite ripe enough. You also want to check for signs of mold before purchasing.

Regardless of whether you grow your own strawberries or buy them at a market, you should store unwashed fresh berries in the refrigerator for three to five days, keeping them cold and dry so they don't grow mold. Wash them right before use. They can also be frozen whole and kept for about two months.

Because strawberries are on the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list of crops most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residue, it's a good idea to purchase organic strawberries. Regardless of whether you purchase organic or conventional berries, washing them before use is essential. If you're concerned about food waste, purchasing frozen strawberries or freezing fresh strawberries can help you avoid the disappointment and frustration of seeing your berries spoil before you've had a chance to use them.

Chefs in MICHELIN-recommended restaurants around the country often feature strawberries on their menus when the fruit is at its peak. At New York City's Russ & Daughters Cafe, brunch options include a popular caramelized chocolate babka French toast topped with strawberries. (You can also buy dried strawberries by the pound in the shop.) In Michael Mina's namesake restaurant in San Francisco, inspectors make note of a dark chocolate crèmeux with fresh strawberries. Diners at Saison, also in San Francisco, can enjoy chef Laurent Gras's creamsicle-stuffed Sumo Mandarin with strawberries. The dessert menu at chef Ryan Ratino's Bresca in Washington, D.C., has featured a strawberries and cream dish accompanied by cake batter that's been frozen in liquid nitrogen when it arrives at the table. And at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's abcV in New York, customers can refresh with a maca-cacao shake that's made with maca, cacao, cinnamon, banana, strawberries and coconut water.

However you enjoy them, strawberries are a delicious and healthy way to add color and flavor to your food.

This article written by Jessica Cording first appeared on the MICHELIN Guide digital platform. View it here

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