Strawberries are a popular food in most households. But if you have strawberries that aren’t fully ripe, is there anything you can do to ripen them off the vine?
Can Strawberries ripen off the vine? Strawberries will not ripen any further after they are off the vine. Instead, they must remain on the plant until they are fully mature. If you want fully ripe strawberries, only eat the ones that are completely red with no white or green spots.
Strawberries are a unique fruit. Read on to learn more about strawberries, including how to pick them and what to do when they aren’t ripe.
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Why Strawberries Won’t Ripen Off the Vine
To understand the ripening process of a strawberry, you need to become familiar with a strange technicality. Strawberries are not berries. In fact, they aren’t even fruits.
Even though this is nonintuitive, it is a true botanical fact. But if strawberries aren’t fruits, what are they? Lets first look at some helpful definitions:
- Fruit – The part of a plant that contains the plant’s seed. On flowering plants, the seed is the reproductive organ that develops from the plant’s ovary.
- Receptacle – The end portion of a plant’s stem. Reproductive parts of the plant are often attached to the receptacle.
Based on the definitions above, the part of the strawberry we eat is actually a receptacle. This is because the strawberry flesh does not develop from the plant’s true reproductive organ known as the ovary.
So, a strawberry plant’s real fruit is not the red flesh that we have come to love. Instead, the fruits are the small “seeds” on the outside of the strawberry.
Again, we have run into a misnomer. What we call strawberry “seeds” are actually simple fruits that are carrying seeds within them. These fruits are attached to the outside of the strawberry’s bright red receptacle.
In keeping with this distinction, the term “auxiliary fruit” is another acceptable term for a strawberry’s flesh. But to keep matter simple, consider the part of the strawberry we eat to be a part of the stem which holds the fruit rather than a fruit itself.
Why Bother with Botanical Definitions
The terms above can be a bit frustrating. After all, they seem to erase all we thought we knew about the simple pleasure of eating a strawberry. But these definitions are important to understand when it comes to strawberry ripening.
The distinction between fruit and stem plays an important role in the ripening process. Since the flesh of a strawberry is more part of the stem than the fruit, this part of the plant will only continue to develop while it is attached to the vine.
This means that there is no hope of ripening strawberries after their removal from the vine. If you want ripe strawberries, you need to harvest or purchase them when they are already fully red.
Picking and Eating Ripe Strawberries
Strawberries that are good to eat are the result of good timing. Enjoying strawberries as a flavorful summer treat depends on your ability to select them at the right time. In this section, we will cover the two main ways that people go about acquiring their strawberries.
- Purchasing Strawberries at the Grocery Store
- Growing and Harvesting Strawberries at Home
Purchasing Strawberries at the Grocery Store
When you shop for strawberries at the grocery store, the ripening process is beyond your control. By the time strawberries are on display in the produce section, they have already become as ripe as they will ever be.
As a shopper, you need to know how to pick the best strawberries in the store.
This comes down to color. If you see strawberries that have white or green spots, they are not ripe.
As noted before, no amount of waiting will improve the quality of these strawberries. Avoid sup-par strawberries by only buying those which are completely red. This redness pretty much guarantees that your strawberries will be as sweet as you expect them to be.
Growing and Harvesting Strawberries at Home
If you want more say in the ripening process of your strawberries, you can always grow them yourself. Strawberries are relatively easy to grow in your own yard. Because of this, they are a common plant in many home gardens.
Picking ripe strawberries are all about timing. Pick them too early, and your strawberries will not be ready. Wait too long, and birds, or your dog, might eat them before you get a chance to.
In general, strawberries take about 4-6 weeks to develop after the plant blossoms. However, this timeframe is just a guideline. Knowing when to harvest strawberries is all about color.
Much like when you are in the grocery store, you want to evaluate a strawberry based on its current hue. If a strawberry still has major white or green spots, don’t pick it.
Strawberries that are not fully red just aren’t ready. If you try to eat them, you will find that they are a far cry from the sweet flavor you wanted. In place of that sweetness will be an unpleasant sourness and crunchiness.
Another great way to evaluate strawberries’ ripeness is to pick the ones that can be removed from the plant without much effort. Once they reach peak ripeness, the plants will start shedding them, making them a lot easier to remove.
Getting the Most Sweetness out of your Strawberries
To get the most flavor out of your strawberries follow these three tips.
- Store them unwashed and uncut – Only remove the hulls and wash the flesh just before you eat your strawberries.
- Eat them within three days of harvest – After three days, put your strawberries in the freezer to maintain their flavor and freshness.
- Spray them with lemon juice – Spraying strawberries with lemon juice will help preserve the color of your strawberries.
What to Do with Strawberries that Aren’t ripe
If you find yourself in a scenario where you have strawberries that aren’t fully ripe, don’t worry. There are several ways you can treat your strawberries so that they are still a tasty snack. Some of the easiest options are listed below.
- Add Sugar – Just put your strawberries into a bowl, add sugar, and stir. In about 10 minutes your strawberries will already have better flavor.
- Strawberry Syrup – Add sugar to your berries and reduce over a stovetop to make your own syrup.
- Smoothies – Include your strawberries in your next smoothie. Incorporate a few other strong flavors to mask the tartness of the unripe strawberries.
- Roasting – Heat your oven to 350 Degrees and roast for about 20 minutes. The heat will enhance any natural sweetness in the strawberry.
- Baking – Much like roasting, the heat will activate the strawberry’s sugars. Use your unripe strawberries in pies and muffins.
- Jam Making – Jam making will enrich the flavor of your strawberries. This is especially true when you add plenty of sugar as a sweetener.
- Compost – If you don’t feel like making any special dishes, you can always just throw your unripe strawberries in a compost pile.
No one wants unripe strawberries. But if you end up with some, not all hope is lost. You just need to get a little creative in the kitchen. Your unripe strawberries might even prompt you to find a new go-to strawberry recipe.
The Rare White Strawberry
Some rare strawberry varieties remain white when ripe. These strawberries lack a certain protein that produces the quintessential red color.
There may be some benefit to white strawberries. The protein these strawberries lack is what often causes a reaction in those allergic to strawberries.
Since white strawberries don’t have this protein, those with allergies may be able to enjoy them. Of course, if you have an allergy, you should talk to your doctor before attempting to eat any strawberries.
White strawberries are smaller and far rarer. In most cases, the strawberries available to you will be the more common red variety.
Realizing that your strawberries aren’t fully ripe is an unfortunate scenario. However, while strawberries won’t ripen off the vine, there are still many great uses for them. But if you want scrumptious strawberries without any extra work, make sure to pick some that are beautifully red and fully ripe.