Strawberries are rich in disease fighting, free-radical busting antioxidants. One serving provides the daily recommended dose of Vitamin C as well as a good helping of vitamins B2, B5, B6 and K, folic acid and magnesium.
They may be great for your waistline, your health and even as an eco-friendly facemask (see “Using Fresh Strawberries As An All-Natural, Full Body Exfoliate and Face Mask”), but, by far, the best thing about these little beauties is how great they taste. And, although strawberries can be prepared in a multitude of ways, they maintain their most potent health benefits and pack the most refreshing wallop when served raw.
Raw strawberries needn’t be boring; indeed, by changing up their cut and enhancing their natural sweet syrup, there are countless variations in texture, look and flavor that will satisfy even the most restless palate.
Begin by washing your strawberries thoroughly. A good way to do this efficiently is to use the plastic container they come in (with air or strainer holes). Run the whole container, berries still inside, under cold water. Shift the strawberries gently around the container with your fingers to ensure that each one is hit with a strong blast of water (if they’ve been packed tightly, a few berries may need to be removed to allow for shifting the contents). After you’ve given the container a few gentle shakes over the sink for a final drain, place it on a tea (or paper) towel. If you’ve more time to spare, or if the strawberries were received in a non-aerated, non plastic container, gently remove the berries from the box and wash them individually.
Use a small paring knife to remove the green leaves and stems from the strawberries. Put these to the side to dispose of later or use as garnish.
Take the washed and de-leaved strawberries and use the paring knife to slice them in your chosen fashion. Popular cuts include quartered spears, rounded medallions and halved. Bear in mind that, generally, as the cut of your berry becomes smaller, the sweeter your final dish will be overall (this is due to the exposed moisture). If you will be storing your berries for longer than a day or two, it’s best to keep their cut larger (ie: halved) so they remain firmer, longer.
Don’t worry about removing all the water from the strawberries, as it will become a part of the final sweetener.
Choosing your sweetener.
The moisture and naturally occurring juice of the strawberries will serve as the base of your flavoring, regardless of your addition(s). Whichever sweetener you choose will evolve into a differently colored and textured item as the moisture from the strawberries is allowed to interact with it and create the syrup.
For an all natural sweetener, use stevia, honey, coconut water (or milk), cranberry, apple, or orange juice.
Stevia is an herbal sweetener that can be found in liquid and powdered forms. Using it will most closely emulate a traditionally (granulated white) ‘sugared’ strawberry when it reacts with the strawberries’ moisture. The syrup it produces is light, and allows the berry’s inherent flavor to shine. Stevia now comes in a variety of flavored options as well, which can make for a delicious – still natural- range of tastes including the ever popular vanilla.
Honey will thin out, regardless of its density, but will make for a more concentrated, golden sweet syrup that is delicious when drizzled over anything that may accompany your finished berries. Honey, as stevia, is also commonly flavored which can add a unique flavor profile to your fruit.
Coconut water /milk make for a much creamier ‘syrup’ depending on the amount you use; a few teaspoons will result in a charming, light milky flavored syrup with a delicate pink tinge. Using a larger amount will produce a type of strawberry-coconut-cream flavored dish that can be an elegant dessert all on its own. Coconut water and milk are very subtle, but distinct in flavor and add an almost buttery taste when used liberally.
100% all natural fruit juices of any variety are excellent, will add a subtle underlying flavor to the strawberries and are readily available. When using a juice, it is of the utmost importance to be sparing (a few drops at a time) to allow the syrup to maintain its integrity. The high water content in juice can easily overpower the strawberries (especially when of a smaller cut), and, indeed, even dilute the fruit’s naturally occurring taste.
A fruit juice based syrup will be thin, and not adhere well to the berries themselves. Berries in a juice syrup will need to be rotated to maintain their coating. As in honey, however, this type of syrup is delicious and works well as a (thin) drizzling agent. When using orange juice, take into consideration that the firmness and texture of the strawberry may be affected by the acidity over time.
Icing sugar, granulated white sugar, brown/golden sugar, corn and maple syrup are other alternatives.
Packing a few more calories but also a great deal of extra sweetness, adding these sugars and syrups to your berries are fantastic alternatives when the fruit has been harvested early in the season and have not yet fully developed their natural sugars.
Icing sugar, almost instantaneously produces a shinier, glazed berry with a light syrup that is a breathtaking pink/red hue. Because of its extra fine grain, icing sugar dissolves quickly and can be used, conveniently, when time is of the essence and does not allow your berries a resting period to allow their syrups to develop fully.
Granulated white sugar is a staple in most pantries, and is, hands down, the most traditional method of sweetening berries of all kinds. If eaten immediately after sprinkling, white sugar produces a pleasing crunch to the outer part of the berry. Left to produce a syrup, however, it produces a moderate to strong syrup on the berries, with a light consistency. A white sugar syrup will adhere nicely to the fruit.
Using dark, light or golden (brown) sugar takes a slightly longer resting period to produce an ideal syrup, but the wait is worth it. Each of these sugars are exceptionally sweet and intensely colored. These attributes are magnified, exponentially when married to sliced strawberries. Be sparing with each, as the strawberries’ natural flavor can easily be overwhelmed by thick sugars. Each of these sugars produces a deeper, heavier syrup that is a wonderful drizzling agent, and adheres well to the fruit (as well as anything served with them). A brown or rich golden sugar can also generate a suggestion of caramel in a strawberry syrup which is superb when served with ice cream or over baked goods.
Corn syrup is, by far, the lowest on the nutritional totem pole, but when used sparingly, produces an instant, full bodied, sweet, well adhering syrup that is adaptable and generally, goes over well with any palate.
Maple syrup is a fabulous addition to any bowl of berries, but takes strawberries in particular to an entirely new level. Whether the strawberries are harvested early, or fully ripe, the flavor of maple syrup brings out the tang of the fruit while holding fast to its own unique flavor.
With a myriad of different flavors and colors available at nearly every grocery store, maple syrup offers a distinct, moderately flavored strawberry syrup that becomes surprisingly thin and light after its resting period. Due to post-rest thinning, strawberries in a maple enhanced syrup may need to be rotated prior to serving to keep them coated.
Place your damp, clean, whole or sliced strawberries into a generous round bowl. Strawberries are extremely delicate, even more so after they have been cut and being losing their moisture. Using a round bowl with lots of room to shift the berries and rotate them when crafting your syrup is key in allowing the berries to be fully coated and maintain an attractive structure and texture.
Sparingly, at first, drip, spoon or sprinkle your chosen sweetener over your bowl of berries. With a large wooden or thick rounded plastic spoon, scoop and rotate the berries to distribute the sweetener over the fruit. Use as much sweetener as desired, bearing in mind that the longer strawberries rest, and the smaller the cut, the sweeter they will become. A berry that has been resting for a time will also produce more syrup and progressively lose its firmness. Keeping strawberries cool will always keep them fuller and more rigid.
After using your sweetener, use plastic wrap, or an airtight lid to cover your berries and refrigerate for approximately forty five minutes. Prior to serving the berries, re-rotate the berries using your large, rounded spoon to re-distribute the syrup coating. The strawberries will have produced quite a large amount of natural syrup in this time; taste it and ‘touch up’ as you see fit.