A couple of evenings ago, I went berry picking on Sauvie Island with a few friends. After tasting several of the many varieties available, I settled on Hoods, because the season is short and I am only human. (Once you have experienced the candy-sweet flesh of a Hood strawberry, it’s hard to go back to huge, watery Driscoll’s.) After picking a flat each, my berry-picking companions and I enjoyed a bowl of just-plucked berries, store-bought angel food cake, and whipped cream from a canister. It was a perfect moment.
The next morning, I popped a few berries from my mouth, straight from the fridge. They did not taste the same. They were less sweet, more tart, and sharp on the tongue. Had I eaten all of the best ones the night before? (No.) Did the idyllic setting influence their flavour? (Kind of, yes, but that wasn’t the problem.)
Like cheese and several other foods, berries just taste better at room temperature. Warmer temperatures help your nose and mouth perceive their aromatic flavour compounds, which means they taste and smell better. (By “aromatic” I mean “having a pleasant aroma” not “containing rings of carbon with alternating pi bonds,” though there’s some overlap between the two.) Cold temps mute flavours and smells, which is why my morning-after berries tasted sharp and acidic rather than sweet and jammy.
This does not mean you should store your berries at room temperature. Berries have a tendency to spoil and mould quite rapidly, so keep them in the fridge — un-rinsed — until you are ready to eat them, then wash and let them hang out at room temperature for 15-30 minutes. The wait may seem interminable, but the rewards — the sweet and fragrant rewards — will be well worth that quarter- or half-hour interlude. I, for one, did not spend hours crouching in a drizzly field to eat rushed, chilled, flavourless berries.