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A Brief History of Strawberries

By Philip McIntosh | Last updated: April 20, 2021
Key Takeaways

Relatively new to the scene, the delicious strawberry has become a key ingredient for many tasty dishes. But did you know the strawberry isn’t really a fruit, or even a berry?

Strawberry jam, strawberry shortcake, strawberry sundae, strawberry syrup (to put on the sundae), strawberries and cream, strawberry pie, and just plain strawberries — is there anyone who does not just love a good strawberry? Well, maybe, since some people are allergic to strawberries. Other than that, the strawberry is one of the most popular and flavorful fruits in worldwide cultivation.

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Compared to staples such as corn, beans, and squash, agricultural production of strawberries is of more recent origin. Although mentioned in Roman times, the edible fruit did not come into cultivation in Europe until much later; around 1300 in France. Before that, humans had collected wild strawberries for a long time since edible species are native to the British Isles and northern Europe.

There are around 20 species in the genus Frageria in the rose family (Rosaceae). Most are uninteresting from a food standpoint with poor taste or diminutive fruit, but a few are sought after as edibles. We are most interested in the common commercially available strawberry, the hybrid variety known as Frageria x ananassa. How exactly did this hybrid come about?

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Read also: Growing Hydroponic Strawberries

Hybrids are a cross between closely related species. Sometimes they produce fertile offspring (via-ble seeds present); often not (but there are ways around this as with seedless watermelons). The modern strawberry, Frageria x ananassa, has a more complicated origin than the two-part name suggests. The earliest cultivated strawberries were two woodland species, Frageria vesca and F. moschata, grown in

France and other parts of Europe. In the 17th century a wild variety with superior taste, F. virginiana, was imported to Europe from North America. The final additional to the gene pool came from Chile, in the form of F. chiloensis. Through traditional crossing methods, these plants eventually produced what was called Frageria annanassa, which was a pretty decent strawberry that could reliably be grown from seed. But, we’re not at the end of the story yet. A further combination of F. anannasa, F. chiloensis, and F. virgiania, led to what we would recognize as the modern strawberry.

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So, fruit contain seeds, right? You have probably noticed that the strawberry’s seeds are located on the outside of the red fleshy part, and that is rather unusual. Unusual enough so that technically, the strawberry is not a fruit; it’s not even a berry. Strawberries, like raspberries and blackberries, produce aggregate fruit, meaning there are many little fused segments, resulting from the fertilization of more than one ovary in a single flower. The “seeds” on the outside of the fleshy receptacle are the true fruit of the strawberry, called achenes. Each achene contains a single seed.

Read also: How to Grow 4 Types of Berries Hydroponically

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In the US, most strawberries are grown on farms in California, followed by Florida, with a few other states providing a smaller amount of the commercial supply. Over a million tons of straw-berries worth around three billion dollars are produced each year in the United States.

The popularity of strawberries has been on the rise in recent years and they often come first or near the top in favorite fruit surveys. A single strawberry is relatively small and, of course, is mostly water, so you have to eat a number of them to get their nutritional benefit. This usually isn't a problem since they are so sweet and delicious. If one looks closely at several nutrition facts labels for strawberries, you’ll see that the amounts of vitamins and minerals is low but varies widely depending on how the serving size is defined. A 150-gram serving (one cup) is high in vitamin C (greater than 100 per cent of the US daily value) and fiber, with a bit of iron. The sugar content is relatively low at about seven grams. Strawberries are definitely a low fat, zero cholesterol food containing small amounts of other vitamins and minerals as well. Fresh or frozen, as an ingredient or eaten just as they are, it’s hard to go wrong with the noble strawberry.

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Written by Philip McIntosh | Science & Technology Writer, Teacher

Profile Picture of Philip McIntosh
Philip McIntosh is a science and technology writer with a bachelor’s degree in botany and chemistry and a master’s degree in biological science. During his graduate research, he used hydroponic techniques to grow axenic plants. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he teaches mathematics.

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