Time to celebrate the strawberry

Special to The Log

May 1 started National Strawberry Month, a time to reflect on the history of this sweet, nutrition-packed fruit that grows well in Florida and to extol its health benefits.

Strawberries originally grew in Europe. In France, people regarded them as the highest-quality aphrodisiac.

People believed Alpine strawberries provided various medicinal benefits. While some used the leaves, roots and fruits as a skin tonic, others ate berries to relieve diarrhea and an upset stomach. Folks also used the fruit’s juices to whiten teeth.

Today, farmers grow them in the United States, Chile, Mexico and Russia, among other nations, and, in contrast to the early multiple uses for strawberries, consumers usually eat or drink the fruit.

“The most important aspect of strawberries, aside from their wonderful taste, is their nutritional value,” said Linda Bobroff, a professor of nutrition and health with the UF/IFAS department of family, youth and community sciences. “With very few calories — something that is important to many people — strawberries pack a nutritional punch.”

Bobroff gave a list of examples of the nutrition value provided by 1 cup of strawberries:

• 3 grams of dietary fiber, something most Americans consume in insufficient amounts.

• 230 milligrams potassium, a nutrient of concern in the U.S., which soon will appear on all nutrition facts panels.

• 90 milligrams of vitamin C.

Also from a nutritional perspective, strawberries provide important non-nutritive compounds, known as polyphenols, and antioxidants, said Anne Mathews, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food science and human nutrition.

Florida Strawberry Cheesecake Dip

1/2 cup fresh Florida strawberries, rinsed, dried and chopped fine

1/4 cup Florida pecans, toasted and chopped fine

1/4 cup Florida honey

1/3 cup freshly squeezed Florida orange juice

1 cup low-fat cream cheese, softened

1 cup low-fat sour cream

Assorted cookies, graham crackers and fresh Florida fruit for dipping and spreading

Set aside 1 tablespoon each of the strawberries and pecans for garnish.

In a small bowl, lightly mix the strawberries, honey and orange juice.

In a separate bowl, blend the cream cheese and sour cream until smooth.

Add the strawberry mixture and fold together.

Fold in the pecans.

Cover and chill.

Garnish the top of the dip with the reserved strawberries and pecans.  

Serve with cookies and fruit for dipping. Serves 4-6.