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Berries 101: Choosing the Best

Updated March 30, 2018

 

When berry season begins in earnest, I feel like I’ve won the culinary lottery. Berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries – are the perfect adornment for a bowl of oatmeal and make excellent afternoon snacks, but do you know how to handle this summertime windfall?

Bonus: Keep your eyes peeled for less common varieties: currants, mulberries, gooseberries or huckleberries, and handle them with the same care you use with other berry season standbys.

Get the Recipe: Traditional Strawberry Shortcake

Pick the Best

Color

  • Berries should be uniformly and richly colored.
  • Don’t worry about the hazy white “bloom” on blueberries – that’s a normal bloom berries form as a protective shield from the sun.
  • Avoid berries with brown patches or discoloring, which could indicate under-ripe or damaged berries.

Size

  • Size doesn’t really affect the flavor profile of the berries, though tiny berries can be more concentrated in flavor.
  • Wild berries tend to be much smaller than their cultivated counterparts.

Shape

  • Berries should be plump and firm.
  • If berries are wrinkled or shrunken, they may be drying out and past their prime.

Anything Else?

  • Berries should be dry and intact – if the berry carton is wet or has splotches of juice on the sides, some of the berries are likely overripe and could be moldy.
  • A good test is to give the container a gentle shake – the berries should move freely in the package.

Get the Recipe: Lemonade Ice with Whipped Yogurt

Store and Savor

Storage

  • Store unwashed berries in the refrigerator.
  • Berries are delicate, so consume them as soon as possible after purchase; blueberries can last up to a week.
  • Only wash berries just before you plan to use them.
  • To freeze berries for smoothies or baked good down the road, allow gently washed berries to dry completely (don’t forget to hull the strawberries first). Next, place the berries in a single layer on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and freeze until firm. Store frozen berries in resealable plastic freezer bags.

Preparation

  • Berries can be flavorful additions to sweet and savory dishes alike.
  • Dice strawberries, then toss with lime juice and flecks of hot peppers for a spirited summer salsa.
  • Skewer blueberries along with other seasonal darlings like cantaloupe, pitted cherries and peaches for fun poolside snack.
  • Cap all your fingertips with upturned raspberries and have a snack on the go – but you’ll want more than that, so fold whole raspberries into your favorites pudding for a bright warm-weather dessert.
  • Quickly simmer blackberries with a splash of sweet wine, then serve over grilled chicken or fish.
  • Still hungry? Check out our collections of raspberry and strawberry recipes for more inspiration.