When you think of the flavor of strawberries, the first three qualities that might pop up in your head will likely be “sweet”, “juicy”, and “slightly tart” – but does their tartness qualify them as a citrus fruit?
Are strawberries citrus fruit? No, even though strawberries can have a tart flavor, they are not botanically categorized as a citrus fruit since they don’t belong to the citrus family. Strawberries are part of the Rosaceae (rose) family and have a predominately sweet flavor with hints of tartness depending on the ripeness of the fruit.
Read below as we explain the differences between strawberries and citrus fruit, and why strawberries are not a citrus fruit despite their mild tartness!
A Quick History of Strawberries
Strawberries have been around for centuries and there is even evidence that ancient civilizations such as the Greeks widely cultivated wild strawberries and consumed them as part of their diet.
Wild strawberries looked nothing like the strawberries we know today. In fact, most of the ancient cultivars of strawberries were white. That’s right, try picturing a pale white strawberry!
Over the years though, wild strawberries slowly evolved to be larger, sweeter, and resistant to the environment through the process of selective breeding and cross-breeding.
Both breeding methods are important to understand here because these methods are what gave strawberries their signature flavor and appearance.
It is believed that ancient strawberry cultivars were smaller (the size of a pea!) and less sweet with prominent tart flavors – but before you exclaim “Aha! That means they’re citrus”, there is more to the story.
While the Greeks were enjoying their fair share of strawberries, other wild cultivars of strawberries were also thriving elsewhere around the Northern Hemisphere; and most of them had different characteristics related to their appearance and flavor.
It is believed that at some point in our history, different cultivars of strawberries were collected and crossbred to form a new species that was larger and sweeter.
You might have heard about cross-breeding in the context of genetic modification when talking about GMO foods, but our ancient ancestors were cross-breeding plant species long before the concept of modern science.
They did this by a method called “Hand Pollination” where a farmer would intentionally deposit pollen from one flower to the stigma of another, which caused the offspring to have the characteristics of both parents.
Once a species was bred and successfully cultivated, the farmers shifted their focus to selective breeding. In a nutshell, selective breeding is quite literally the concept behind the phrase “survival of the fittest”.
See, over the years, as strawberry plants flourished, they started to undergo natural genetic changes.
Along with the practice of cross-breeding, these natural changes made the fruit larger while other gene mutations made it sweeter – and that is when farmers started to forcefully breed only the fruit that had both of these desirable characteristics.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, strawberries are widely used for both commercial and culinary use. They are sold fresh and frozen, and their uses are limitless in the world of baking!
Citrus fruit like oranges, grapefruits, limes, and lemons have a similar origin story, however, these fruits have a completely different flavor profile and texture compared to strawberries as they are known to be more acidic and have segmented flesh.
“Segmented” means that the flesh is divided into different segments that are held together by multiple tiny membranes. Think about how oranges have multiple segmented slices.
In the same way, if you look closely at lime or lemons, you will find tiny membranes containing the juicy and acidic lime juice that everyone loves.
But that’s not the only difference between strawberries and citrus fruit. To explain both of these fruits, we will have to dive deep into their characteristics.
Characteristics of Strawberries and Citrus Fruit
Here are some of the characteristics of strawberries and citrus fruit:
Strawberries have soft skin with multiple yellow seeds embedded around the outer surface of the fruit. If you cut through a strawberry, you will find the inside to have a pale red color that gets whiter at the center.
All of the fruit is edible except for its stem which is usually removed before serving.
Strawberries usually have a uniform shape, but some can be shorter while others can have an elongated shape, depending on their type and how they were cultivated.
On the other hand, citrus fruits have a usually tough and thick skin with a waxy texture. If you cut a citrus fruit in half, you will find the inside to have multiple segments, each divided with a separable membrane.
The flavor of strawberries is iconic.
Strawberries are predominately sweet but they can offer a wide range of flavors. Some types are cultivated to be less sweet while other are a balance between sweet, fruity, and tart flavors.
The tartness of this fruit depends on its ripeness too! Ripe strawberries will have a sweet flavor whereas unripe strawberries will have a distinct tartness to them – which may add to the confusion about their classification.
But rest assured, as far as botany is concerned, strawberries are not a citrus fruit.
Citrus fruit have a predominately acidic and tart flavor. It is important to note, though, that citrus fruit can also be sweet, like in the case of oranges.
The flavor of oranges is known to be a mixture of sweet and tart but these notes can also vary depending on the ripeness of the fruit.
Another noteworthy point about citrus fruit is their bitter rinds. Most citrus fruit have a thick, waxy outer skin that is usually inedible due to its strong bitter notes, especially when the outer layer is abraded.
The acid and enzymes in citrus fruit can contribute to the bitterness of the rind as well.
So, in summary, strawberries can be tart, but they typically lose their tartness as they get ripe in favor of sweeter notes, unlike most citrus fruit that retain their acidic flavor.
Strawberries and citrus fruit have a rich history in human gastronomy. From baking to everyday cooking, both citrus fruit and strawberries can be used in several ways to add flavor, texture, and presentation to food.
For example, the juice from lemons can be used to flavor savory and sweet dishes; and thanks to the thick skin of citrus fruit, its zest can also be used to add flavor and presentation to food too.
Since citrus fruit offer acidic flavors, they are best used to add a contrast in recipes that require a refreshing and subtly acidic note, like pies, jams, vinaigrettes, and much, much more!
The acidity of citrus fruit also has utility too. Lemon juice is commonly used as a meat tenderizer that can be added to marinades for flavor as well.
Several savory foods, and even beverages, also include thin slices of lemon or other citrus fruit to accentuate their flavor, aroma, and presentation.
In contrast, strawberries don’t have a high acidic content, which means that they are predominately used for baking purposes.
From cakes, pies, ice creams, and milkshakes, to even jellies – strawberries are a highly versatile fruit that can be used in different ways to leverage its sweeter flavor notes.
Just like citrus fruit, strawberry slices can also be used for both eating and presentation purposes. Here’s a quick summary of the difference between both types of fruit:
|Skin||Soft and delicate, with embedded seeds.||Tough, waxy, and thick skin.|
|Flavor||Sweet with very subtle hints of tartness.||Majorly tart and sour with sweet notes.|
|Best Used||Mainly dessert recipes and jams or jellies.||Vast uses in savory and sweet recipes.|
|Belongs to||Rosaceae (rose) family.||Rutaceae family.|
If you think that citrus fruit provides a higher dose of vitamin C then you would be wrong!
Strawberries are known to have a more comprehensive nutritional profile and are also a great source of vitamin C.
One cup of strawberries (150g) contains about 98% of the recommended daily value compared to oranges, lemon, and lime which provide 88%, 31%, and 30% of vitamin C respectively – and no, higher vitamin C levels do not equate to more tartness.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, has a distinct sour flavor that can be found in many types of fruit in varying degrees.
But in the case of strawberries, the tartness is subdued due to the presence of compounds that make the fruit much sweeter. You can think of it this way: all tart fruit have vitamin C but not all fruit high in Vitamin C are tart.
Strawberries and citrus fruit are incredibly flavorful and useful in the culinary world. Now that you know why strawberries aren’t considered citrus fruit, here are some related questions:
Can unripe strawberries be used instead of citrus?
Unripe strawberries will have a strong sour and tart flavor, but they will not be a suitable substitute for recipes that specifically call for citrus fruit. Unripe strawberries have a firm but relatively soft flesh with a green color.
So, while you might get tartness, they won’t be worth the use in the context of presentation and texture. We recommend choosing substitutes from the citrus family, like replacing lemons with limes.
Can strawberries last longer due to their high vitamin C content?
Strawberries are high in Vitamin C but have a low acidic profile and a delicate moisture-rich flesh which makes them highly susceptible to spoilage.
On the other hand, most citrus fruit have high acidity and a tough rind around them which preserves them better. Please note that the rate of spoilage depends on many factors and can easily occur in fruit that are high in vitamin C and acidity too.