Posts Tagged ‘strawberries’

Strawberries: The gift that keeps on growing

Friday, February 4th, 2011

When a Japanese person visits another person’s home, he or she traditionally brings a gift. The most common gift in such a situation is fruit. Recently, a friend came to our apartment for lunch and we bought strawberries, which was a dumb thing to do because it was more than likely that our friend was going to uphold this tradition and bring strawberries herself, since, right now, strawberries are the only fruit “in season,” basically because modern farming technology has made it possible for strawberries to be never out of season.

Fruit on steroids: amaou vs. otome

And, of course, she did bring strawberries; massive ones, in fact, which made the strawberries we purchased look puny in comparison. We had bought a package of the most popular type, otome from Tochigi Prefecture, which cost ¥398 for 300 grams. Our friend, however, had brought the more extravagant and topical amaou strain, grown in Fukuoka. We didn’t ask how much she paid, but we did ask if she ever bought this particular type of strawberry to eat at home. She said, “Of course not.” Later we went by the supermarket and checked out the price. Six amaou berries cost ¥680, about 300 grams. Further research uncovered organic strains of amaou  for ¥888 (300 grams) and ¥598 (200 grams). Though strawberries are grown in 40 prefectures, mainly because it is almost always a guaranteed money maker (thanks, in part, to Chinese tourists who buy up a lot of expensive stawberries), Tochigi and Fukuoka are currently the two heavyweights, battling it out for berry dominance.

However, the king of luxury (kokyu) strawberries is a brand called Aiberry, which retails for ¥500 a pop. Aiberry is being touted as the 21st century equivalent of the cantaloupe, or “musk melon,” which was typically the go-to fruit when foreign media wanted to demonstrate the utter ridiculousness of high-priced Japanese food culture. And it is ridiculous, as illustrated by an online primer for potential Aiberry aficionados (presumably people who received them as gifts) on how best to appreciate the delights of this rare fruit, which is grown with fertilizer that utilizes decayed strawberries. (Does that count as cannibalism?) The instructions say you shouldn’t even wash the berries with water, since it might deplete the aroma. Just “blow on it” to get ride of any residue. Then you smell it, hold it up to the light to “enjoy the color,” say goodbye, and then slowly eat the berry one bite at a time (two to four mouthfuls), savoring not only the flavor (each part of the strawberry has a different grade of “sweetness”) but also the “structure.” When it’s over, you can even appreciate the aftertaste. And keep the box. You never know when it might come in handy for gift-giving.

Strawberry hothouses forever

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Tochigi and Fukuoka duke it out in the produce section

Tochigi and Fukuoka duke it out in the produce section

Japanese people love to talk about how attuned they are to the seasons, and those who know their food are very picky about consuming produce only in season, which is, of course, the definition of a macrobiotic diet.

Before the rise of chain supermarkets, refrigerated transportation, international trade and sophisticated hothouses, there was actually no alternative to a macrobiotic diet. You ate what was available, and what was available was what was in season. But nowadays, you can get anything you want any time of the year, though, generally speaking, produce tends to be cheaper when it’s in season.

Not so in the case of strawberries, which for all intents and purposes are mostly grown in hothouses. Right now is the natural strawberry season, and until the end of May you can still find fields and hothouses that will let you pick and eat strawberries (more vitamin C than oranges!) for a fee. But the science of growing strawberries indoors has become so exact that most people can’t tell the difference in taste any more between a field grown berry and a hothouse one. For that reason, strawberries are one of the few agricultural endeavors, along with melons, that are guaranteed money-makers. Considered the ultimate of luxuries as recently as the 1980s, they are now affordable to everyone, and no one doesn’t love strawberries.

Tochigi Prefecture is the strawberry capital of Japan, with the Tochi Otome (Tochi maiden) breed of strawberries holding the largest share in the country. The natural season for strawberries is April and May, but hothouse strawberries are available from November to May. Most strawberries are picked when they are slightly unripe and the area around the stem is still white. The reason is that the berries continue to ripen after picking, so that they are at the peak of their flavor by the time they hit the supermarket. If the berries are picked when they’re ripe, they’ll likely be spoiled (and moldy) by the time they are in stores. After being picked they are immediately chilled at around 7 degrees centigrade in order to firm them up so that they won’t bruise as easily.

Continue reading about hothouse strawberries in Japan →


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