What you see: Sunken, darker areas on your strawberries
What it is: Aging in action
Eat or toss: If the bruised areas aren’t showing signs of mold they’re safe to eat. However, if the strawberry is very soft and degraded, it won't taste good anymore
As fruits age they lose water and their cell walls weaken. Strawberries are especially prone to deflating because, at peak ripeness, they puff themselves up with little air pockets that rely on pressure from water-packed cells to stay firm. So it’s no surprise that in the image above, these older strawberries seem to be caving in, with their weakened flesh sporting bruise-y spots. Also, check out the leaves: they’re looking pretty dry and crispy.
Softening fruit like this is more susceptible to mold, but as long as you don’t see any, it’s still fine. The next question is will it taste very good? That depends!
They're supposed to soften - a bit
Strawberries soften, sweeten and develop flavor as they ripen with age—the better to convince us animals to eat them and then, erm, distribute their seeds. (Fun fact: a complex mixture of more than 300 flavor compounds has been detected in ripening strawberries.)
The mechanisms that cause strawberry cells to weaken and soften don't have an off switch. So eventually the strawberry transitions from ripening to rotting.
Old strawberries can get boozy
In the meantime, you might notice an alcohol-y flavor in older strawberries. That happens because cells on the inside of the strawberry, still living and breathing, can't get the oxygen they need to keep running the strawberry engine (Yep, oxygen. The strawberry plant takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen for daytime photosynthesis, but takes in oxygen for round-the-clock respiration). So, they resort to no-oxygen-required fermentation as a backup energy source. Fermentation produces alcohol. A high internal alcohol content can make a strawberry taste like a vodka shot.
As strawberries age, they also give up some of their best stuff. So, you’ll get less Vitamin C from a strawberry like the ones pictured here, but with fiber and other components, it won’t be a complete nutritional wasteland. So, give it an assessing nibble and then make an informed choice. Smoothies anyone?
Cecilia N. Nunes, Ph.D. Associate Professor. Food Quality Laboratory. Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology. University of South Florida
Emily Therese Cloyd. Botanist
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