According to the LA Times, strawberries are the fourth most popular selling California fruit or vegetable, following grapes, lettuce and almonds (is almond a fruit or vegetable? I thought it was a nut.).
“Wow! That’s great!” is the first thing that comes to mind when I read this. I LOVE strawberries – especially when sliced and sandwiched with honey between toast…
The next thought that came to mind was, “Gee, it’s been a really long time since I’ve had a truly sweet, flavorful, and “summery” tasting strawberry…” I read on…
Apparently, this new love of strawberries is prompting biologists and botanists to engineer a year-round, more pest-resistant, shinier, plumper, and more shelf-friendly berry. Tampering with nature… I hesitate…, shiny, pest-resistant, red, plump – these are all good things… but what about taste? I read on… finally stumbling upon what Kirk Larson, a plant breeder for the University of California and a fruit inspector, had to say:
“The flavor? Well, the flavor should be good, too, but that’s less crucial, from Larson’s point of view. The history of strawberry breeding is littered with great-tasting berries that are no longer popular. The most recent example is the Chandler.
‘The fruit looked great and tasted good, but if you shipped it to New York, when the buyer opened the box, the fruit was all leaking out the bottom — that’s an automatic rejection,’ Larson says.”
I’m sorry, Kirk, what was that? I couldn’t have read that correctly! Flavor doesn’t matter? WHAT? If taste doesn’t matter, then what’s the point of engineering food? What does it matter if your strawberries are large glistening orbs of redness if it tastes like Styrofoam? Heck, you might as well just eat the wax fruits on your grandmother’s coffee table! They’re shiny, they’re colourful – and, they’re available all year around. It’s not like you’re sacrificing taste at the cost of producing a more vitamin C or calcium enriched product (even then, I couldn’t justify compromising the taste).
I know, I know… you can’t have the best of all worlds. Maybe pest-resistant, weather-hardy, bright, shiny, ripe, sweet, and large strawberries can’t all happen at once. But, if you ask me, if I were engineering a fruit and needed to sacrifice any of these traits – taste would certainly be the last to go.