What Are Those White Strawberries At The Grocery Store?

And why are they so expensive?

Unique fruits are nothing new to Southerners. The pawpaw tree might not be familiar in all parts of the U.S., but it's a favorite in the Southeast states. Arkansas black apples are beloved for their purple-black skin and, eventually, their sweet, spiced flavors. (You just have to wait a while for the fruit to ripen to anything beyond bitter.)

But white strawberries are a new one for many people—or at least, they're newer. White strawberries have only been in mainstream supermarkets for a few years. Before that, they were relegated to high-end restaurant menus and luxury fruit markets.

Now that white strawberries are showing up in supermarkets like Aldi, Walmart, and Publix, you may be curious to know what they are and why they're white. Here, find out how white strawberries are grown and why they often cost more than the conventional red berries.

White pineberry strawberries are picked from a Bush and placed on a plate in the garden in the summer
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What Is a White Strawberry?

No, they are not unripe strawberries. White strawberries are what the name suggests—strawberries that just happen to white, not red. White strawberries have red seeds and green stems, but they're lacking the ruby red luster of the traditional fruit.

Many white strawberries often have a softer flesh and may bruise more easily. Plus, the bruises show easily on the delicate, creamy skin.

Why Are White Strawberries White?

Strawberries start out as small white buds on the strawberry plant. As they grow, they turn into green fruits, and then white. When they're fully ripe, they're vibrant and red.

But not white strawberries. White strawberries do not turn red when ripe. They stay white. Or, in some cases, they may develop a faint pink blush.

Strawberries turn red because of a protein called Fragaria allergen 1, or Fra a1, that develops in the fruit's flesh. White strawberries simply lack or have very low levels of this protein. Without Fra a1, the white strawberries won't turn red.

Varieties of White Strawberries

There are multiple varieties of white strawberries. The three most common are:

  • Fragaria vesca, also known as Alpine Strawberries. These are native to Europe and have names like Pineapple Crush, White Delight, and White Giant.
  • Fragaria chiloensis, also known as Beach, Coastal, or South American Strawberries. These true white strawberries are native to Chile.
  • Fragaria chiloensis x virginiana, also known as Pineberries. This hybrid white strawberry was first developed in South America and made its way to France, where it has been very popular. Pineberries turn a slight pink hue in the sun because they do have a small quantity of Fra a1.

Other varieties of white strawberries include Keoki, which is a Fragaria x ananassa hybrid like Pineberries, but it lacks the pineapple flavor; and Snow White.

Pineberries and Keoki are both hybrid white strawberries, so they cannot be grown from seed like Alpine and Beach Strawberries.

What Do White Strawberries Taste Like?

Each variety of white strawberry has subtle differences in flavor, but the primary difference is that white strawberries are often thought to be sweeter than conventional red strawberries.

They also feature more tropical flavors. You've probably heard pineberries called pineapple-flavored strawberries.

Can You Use White Strawberries in Place of Red?

Absolutely. The fruits do have some flavor differences, but they won't be so drastic as to mess up a dish's flavor. We love the idea of combining red and white berries in a Homemade Strawberry Shortcake.

Why Are White Strawberries So Expensive?

White strawberries are far more finicky and difficult to grow than red strawberries. They require more time and effort, and many are even grown entirely indoors to limit exposure to the sun so they stay as close to pure white as possible.

Japanese farmer and plant breeder Yasuhito Teshima developed Shiroi Houseki, or White Jewel, to be as close to pure white as possible. In 2012, he released the first of these exquisite white strawberries to the public, at about $10 a piece.

Despite his efforts, only about 10 percent of each year's crop of White Jewel strawberries actually reaches the highly desired and rare state of pure white. But it's such a treat to enjoy these milky fruits that people will pony up for the price.

What's more, white strawberry plants tend to produce fewer berries altogether, which limits how many a grower can get. That drives the cost up, too.

Despite that, you can find a quart of white strawberries for under $7 in most grocery stores during white strawberry season. If you're looking for the allusive White Jewel, expect to pay more. Lots more.

White Strawberries vs. Pineberries

All pineberries are white strawberries, but not all white strawberries are pineberries.

Pineberries, or Fragaria x ananassa, is a hybrid white strawberry. They cannot be grown from seed.

Also, unlike true white strawberries, like Alpine strawberries, pineberries have a small amount of the protein that turns strawberries from white to red. So pineberries often have a subtle pink blush to them.

Pineberries are also the most common white strawberry in stores in the U.S. Brands like Florida's Pink-a-Boo have quickly gained space in supermarkets, drawing the attention of curious shoppers going about the regular market work.

Where to Buy White Strawberries

White strawberries are commercially grown in Florida primarily, so the season begins in late winter or very early spring. Expect to see the first white strawberries (mostly pineberries) in stores by the end of February or early March. Boutique growers in cooler climates might have batches a little later in the season.

If you can't find them locally, retailers like Melissa's may have some available to ship.

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