A Japanese fruit not to be missed!
When most of us go shopping for strawberries, we check the box thoroughly for berries with a bright red hue and, if possible, none that are pink or white. But in Japan, where luxury fruit is a major part of any and all gift-giving holidays, and consumers are often looking for that perfect and unique gift to give, white strawberries are a common sight in the food section of department stores. Despite the relative newness of this unique-looking berry and some early resistance among consumers, the white strawberry has cemented its place on the shelves.
The milky colour of white strawberries comes from the fact that these berries lack the chemical anthocyanin that would normally cause the red colour in a typical strawberry. Therefore, even as these berries ripen the colour remains white, resembling the young, unripened strawberries that some of us are used to. Though they have the colour of unripened strawberries, the flavour is anything but. The white strawberry is very sweet, with a texture that’s a bit softer than the usual red variety. They are much larger as well, some weighing up to 50 grams.
There are several varieties of white strawberries with different names and slight variations of colour. The original and perhaps most common variety of white strawberry is known as hatsukoi no kaori, or Scent of First Love, which appeared in stores in 2006. Meant to evoke the innocence of a youthful crush, the colour is mostly white with slight blushes of pink. Other varieties include yuki usagi, or Snow Rabbit, and tenshi no mi, or Fruit of the Angel, which are also both white, while the sakura ichigo is a shade of pale pink just like the cherry blossoms it’s named for.
About five years ago, a new variety of white strawberry appeared on the market called shiroi houseki, or White Jewel. These are produced by a single grower in Saga Prefecture in southern Japan, who created the variety by cross-breeding seeds and restricting the amount of sunlight. Like the other varieties of white strawberry, the flesh is soft and juicy with a sweet but fresh flavour. Some have even described these berries as having the fleeting taste of fresh pineapple.
As you might expect, white strawberries are more expensive than the usual red ones most of us are used to, so expect to pay about $10 or more per berry. They are more difficult to cultivate, and only a small portion of them are grown to full size, which contributes to their high cost. But the unique colour, amount of care required and relative scarcity of these berries makes them highly coveted as gifts in Japan and a source of curiosity for international visitors.
It might be tough to find white strawberries in North America, but it is worthwhile to check your local Asian grocer when the berries are in season in Japan, between December and March. If you get the chance to visit Japan, be sure to make room in your travel budget to splurge on these deliciously unusual berries.