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Produce 101: Berries

There are hundreds of berry varieties grown around the world, and they are also are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. The most commonly used are strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.  These four are very different in terms of appearance and flavor, but similar with regards to storage and handling.  For this episode of Produce 101: Berries, we are going to focus on these four types.

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries do have USDA Specs.  All have USDA #1 grades based on maturity and physical appearance of the berries, there is also a USDA #2 grade for all berries except for blueberries.

 

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Produce 101: Berries — Proper Storage and Handling

Berries are fragile and very delicate. Handling them improperly can adversely affect your food cost. Here are some suggestions on what to do.

Storage

Most importantly, keep your berries in the coolest part of your cooler. Don’t get them too cold, let’s not freeze them–that will cause the cell structure to collapse and the berries will become better suited for cooking applications.

Ideal storage temperatures for your cooler are 32 – 40 degrees F.

 

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In this illustration, the coolest part is near the fan (1), and the warmest is by the door (3)

Handling

Only wash berries prior to using them. Don’t let them sit in your walk-in wet as this will accelerate the decaying process.  Most importantly, don’t stack heavy items on top of them, and certainly don’t drop them. They are incredibly susceptible to bruising.

While the bruising may not affect the flavor or the overall quality of the berry, it will certainly affect the shelf-life–and that will affect your food cost.

 

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Wash your berries just before using–not before

Produce 101: Berries — Strawberries

Let’s start with strawberries. First, have you ever wondered where strawberries got their name? Well, back in the old days they used to actually grow the strawberries on beds of straw. It protected the delicate berries as they matured.

 

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Strawberries used to grow on straw–hence their name.

 

What we want to look for is a firm, fully colored, and almost heart-shaped berry. This indicates that it was allowed to stay on the vine and fully mature. It is normal to have some white on the shoulder near the stem but what we want to avoid is an excess of white or yellow coloring. Excessive white or green coloring on the fruit, especially near the stem end, is a sure sign the berries didn’t stay on their plant as long as they could have. While they are certainly still edible and often times delicious, the overall sugar content may be lower. Something to know, sometimes immature strawberries are specifically used in pickling applications.

You want to look in each container–you want to make sure that the berries are not breaking down and that they’re not sitting in moisture.

Produce 101: Berries — Blackberries

Blackberries, like all berries, are loaded with antioxidants. Look for firm, consistently dark colored berries. There may be one or two in the clamshell, but overall, you want to avoid berries that still have a little flower attached to the stem or any green casting to them.

 

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Look for dark colored berries with no flowers on the stem. However, it is normal to see one or two in the case.

 

Produce 101: Berries — Raspberries

Raspberries may be the most delicate of all the berries. They are also the hardest to grow, pick, and even cultivate. You want to keep these especially dry. You want to open each container and make sure there is no moisture or smashed berries. That will accelerate decay and decline the shelf-life of your product, and that will certainly affect your food cost adversely.

 

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Raspberries may be the most delicate of all the berries. Keep them dry.

 

Produce 101: Berries — Blueberries

With blueberries, you are looking for large, plump berries. They also have one more factor to look for, the bloom. Bloom is a natural waxy secretion made during the maturation process, appearing as a slightly hazy coating on the blueberries. Don’t wash that off–the bloom is a good thing, as it indicates the berries are fully mature and will hold up better because that is the main function of the surface bloom. It protects the berries from dehydration and decay.

 

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The Bloom is a natural waxy or frost-colored secretion on blueberries.

 

Berries are sensitive to weather conditions

Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are available year-round, but their delicate nature makes them sensitive to weather patterns. To stay on top of the latest market conditions, we suggest you consult our weekly FreshPress market report.

 

Dan discusses Produce 101: Berries

 


 

Content provided by Chef Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years, and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Additional contributions by Lisa Pettineo.

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