Quality of strawberries is determined by several characteristics that give enjoyment to the consumer. Important characteristics of quality are appearance, colour, texture and flavour. Appearance and colour are examples of external quality parameters. Texture and flavor are examples of internal quality. The quality characteristics are influenced by variety, pre-harvest factors, harvest practices and post-harvest handling. Determination of fruit quality provides an important indication of the remaining storage potential and shelf-life.
Maintaining strawberry quality
Generally strawberries do not improve in quality after picking. Goal is to minimize quality losses during the subsequent stages in the supply chain. The prevention of fungal rots is thereby an important attention point. These can largely be controlled by fast cooling of harvested strawberries and avoidance of bruising and injuries. Some minimum requirements for a good quality strawberry are: intact, sound, clean, fresh in appearance, free of any foreign smell and/or taste. The fruits must be sufficiently developed and display satisfactory ripeness. The strawberry calyx (crown) and stalk should be fresh and green.
Attention points for strawberry quality
Colour, size and shape are important characteristics for consumers. Photo by WFBR
General appearanceEach strawberry variety has his own characteristics such as fruit shape, colour, gloss, visibility of seed, and characteristics of the calyx. Of course, this can differ between individual fruits. In all cases, the consumer will ask for fresh-looking and attractive strawberries. They pay attention to colour, size and shape. Further they require strawberries to be free from soil and dust, free from diseases and free from defects.
Pale strawberries are less appealing. Photo by WFBR
ColourThe strawberry should be picked at the right stage of ripeness, so sufficiently coloured red. The colour of the fruit is often, but not always, correlated with the flavour. A bright fruit colour is appealing, and water loss should be limited, as this can lead to dull fruit. In addition to the fruit colour, the colour of the calyx (and stem) is also relevant. The calyx should be green and healthy.
Strawberry texture can indicate the potential remaining shelf-life. Photo by kazoka/Shutterstock.com
TextureStrawberry texture can indicate the potential remaining shelf-life. A firm but not crunchy fruit is preferred. Softer fruit is more susceptible to decay later in the supply chain. The rate at which strawberries soften after harvest differs between cultivars, season, and of course chain conditions. Juiciness is desirable trait for strawberries, while mealiness is not.
Flavour is an important characteristic of strawberries. Photo by karelnoppe/Shutterstock.com
FlavourFlavour is, of course, an important feature of strawberry quality. Important characteristics for the strawberry flavour are firmness, aroma, sweetness, sourness, and the ratio between the latter two (sugar/acid level). It is important to realize that sugar in strawberries does not increase after harvest. The sugar content at harvest can be well estimated by measuring the soluble solids content (SSC, °Brix).
Strawberry infected with botrytis. Photo by WFBR
Disorders and diseasesA good quality strawberry is free from defects and diseases. Bruises or skin injuries will reduce appearance, but also increase water loss (weight loss) and respiration, which can speed up firmness loss and senescence. Defects also provide access routes for pathogens that lead to decay. The major postharvest disease of strawberries is Botrytis rot, which makes the fruit worthless.
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CalyxStrawberries retain a better freshness when stored with the calyx attached.