Can you ripen strawberries after you buy them?

Quick Answers

Yes, you can ripen strawberries after buying them. There are several effective methods to ripen strawberries at home, including leaving them at room temperature, placing them in a paper bag, using an apple or banana to release ethylene gas, and using a ripening agent like ethanol. With the right techniques, you can ripen under-ripe strawberries within 1-3 days.

How Do Strawberries Ripen?

Strawberries, like other fruits, undergo a natural ripening process as they mature on the plant. Unripe strawberries are mostly white or yellow in color, firm, and tart in flavor. As ripening occurs, strawberries turn red, become softer, sweeter, and develop a more intense strawberry aroma and flavor.

The main factors driving strawberry ripening are:

– Cell wall breakdown – Cell walls start partially breaking down, causing the fruit to soften.

– Sugar accumulation – Sugars, particularly glucose and fructose, accumulate in the flesh, making the strawberry sweeter.

– Organic acid reduction – Levels of citric and malic acid decline, lowering tartness.

– Pigment accumulation – Anthocyanin pigments build up, turning the berries red.

– Aroma compound development – Esters, aldehydes and alcohols increase, enhancing strawberry aroma.

The ripening process begins as soon as strawberries are removed from the plant. Ripe strawberries do not increase further in sweetness or continue ripening once detached.

What Determines Ripeness When Buying?

When purchasing strawberries, there are a few signs to look for to determine ripeness:

– **Color** – Ripe strawberries will be mostly red, with little to no white or green areas. Overripe berries will be very dark red.

– **Firmness** – Apply gentle pressure on the sides of a berry. Ripe strawberries will yield slightly but not be mushy. Underripe ones will be very firm.

– **Size** – Larger strawberries tend to be riper, as fruits swell as they ripen. Smaller berries are often less ripe.

– **Aroma** – Ripe strawberries give off a sweet, fruity aroma. Underripe ones have little scent.

– **Stem & Cap** – The green caps or calyxes should appear fresh, not withered. Ripe strawberry stems come off cleanly when picked.

– **Sheen** – Ripe strawberries have a natural glossy appearance. Underripe fruit looks dull.

Selecting strawberries that are fully red, plump, and fragrant typically ensures ripeness. Avoid mushy or moldy berries.

Proper Storage for Ripening

To ripen strawberries after buying, proper storage is important:

– **Temperature** – Keep strawberries at room temperature of around 68-77°F. Cooler temperatures will slow ripening.

– **Humidity** – Maintain relatively high humidity around 90-95%. Strawberries dry out quickly in low humidity.

– **Air circulation** – Allow space around berries and avoid crowding for air to circulate freely.

– **Submerge** – Do not wash or submerge strawberries until ready to eat. Moisture accelerates spoilage.

– **Sunlight** – Avoid direct sunlight, which can cause faster deterioration.

– **Container** – Store in a shallow uncovered container. Do not seal strawberries in plastic bags.

Following these guidelines prevents mold growth and maintains freshness during ripening.

Ripening Methods

Here are 5 effective methods to ripen strawberries after purchasing:

1. Leave at Room Temperature

Simply leaving strawberries out on the counter accelerates ripening. The warmth and air exposure stimulates the ripening enzymes and processes.

– Place berries loose or shallow container.

– Allow 1-3 days at 68-77°F for ripening.

– Check daily and remove any spoiled berries.

– Once ripe, refrigerate to prevent overripening.

2. Paper Bag

Placing strawberries in a partially closed paper bag creates a small humid environment that quickens ripening.

– Put uneaten berries in a paper lunch bag. Fold over top.

– The bag traps ethylene gas naturally produced by the fruit.

– Check after 1-2 days; ripening time varies.

– Transfer ripe strawberries to the fridge.

3. Fruit Acceleration

Exposing strawberries to ethylene gas from apples, bananas or other ripening fruit hastens the process.

– Place berries in a paper bag or box with an apple, banana, tomato.

– The other fruits release ethylene, a natural plant hormone.

– Replace the ripening fruit daily as needed.

– Strawberries ripen within 1-3 days. Refrigerate once ripe.

4. Ethanol Fumes

Exposure to ethanol fumes is an effective method to accelerate ripening.

– Put strawberries and a small container of ethanol in a paper bag.

– Ethanol interacts with fruit cell walls and ripening enzymes.

– Check berries after 12-24 hours of exposure.

– Aerate the container outside briefly before eating berries.

5. Commercial Ripening Agents

Products like ethylene glycol can be used to hasten ripening. These are available online or at some supermarkets.

– Prepare ripening agent according to instructions.

– Apply sparingly inside a paper bag with unripe strawberries.

– Reapply daily as needed until berries ripen.

– Rinse strawberries before eating; don’t consume chemical.

– Use proper ventilation when applying agent.

How to Tell When Strawberries Are Ripe

Here are the signs that strawberries have fully ripened after using these home techniques:

– Bright red color with no white patches.

– Soft, yielding texture when pressed gently.

– Visible natural gloss and sheen.

– Plumped, large shape (if originally small).

– Sweet strawberry aroma.

– Reduced sourness/tartness.

– Strawberry flavor comes through.

Berries that are firm with white areas need more time to ripen. Overripe strawberries will be very soft and collapse when handled. Once ripe, strawberries are extremely perishable and should be refrigerated and eaten within 2-3 days.

Tips for Ripening Strawberries

Follow these tips for getting the best results when ripening strawberries at home:

– Start with the best quality berries possible. Avoid mushy or moldy ones.

– Do not wash until ready to eat. Excess moisture quickens spoilage.

– Check strawberries daily and remove any that are overripe or spoiled. These can accelerate decay.

– Place green caps facing up to prevent moisture pooling if berries are stacked.

– If using a ripening agent, apply in a well-ventilated area away from direct food prep areas. Follow all precautions.

– Pat berries dry before refrigerating ripe ones. Condensation invites mold.

– Consume ripe strawberries within 2-3 days for peak flavor and texture.

– Compost overripe berries rather than eating them.

Storing Ripened Strawberries

After strawberries fully ripen, proper storage in the refrigerator is important:

– Store ripe berries loose in a shallow container or open basket. This prevents crushing and allows air circulation.

– Do not pack strawberries tightly or place heavy objects on top. Bruising and squishing degrades quality.

– Keep berries in the coldest part of the fridge, typically the lowest shelf. Ideal temperature is around 32°F.

– Wash only what you plan to consume. Moisture quickens deterioration.

– Pat gentley dry with a paper towel before refrigerating if washed.

– Consume ripe berries within 2-3 days for best flavor, texture and freshness.

– Avoid storing strawberries in the fridge for over 5 days maximum.

Following these guidelines keeps ripe strawberries fresh as long as possible. The cold air slows down metabolic processes to extend shelf life.

Freezing Ripened Strawberries

Ripened strawberries can also be frozen for long-term storage:

– Wash and dry berries thoroughly. Cut off caps.

– Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet or plate. Place in freezer until hard, about 2 hours.

– Transfer frozen berries to an airtight freezer bag or container. Squeeze out excess air.

– Label with the date and return to the freezer immediately.

– For best quality, consume frozen strawberries within 10-12 months.

Properly freezing ripe strawberries preserves their freshness for use in smoothies, baked goods, jams, and other recipes.

Can Unripe Strawberries Make You Sick?

Eating a few underripe strawberries is not harmful or dangerous. However, consuming large quantities of unripe berries may cause digestive upset in some people due to:

– **High Acidity** – Unripe strawberries have higher levels of citric and other acids that can irritate the digestive system.

– **Fruit Pectin** – Unripe fruits have more pectin, which acts as a gelling agent and laxative in large amounts.

– **Fiber Content** – Greener strawberries have more indigestible fiber that can cause loose stools.

– **Irritants** – Immature strawberries may contain higher concentrations of pesticides, fungus, or intrinsic substances that bother sensitive stomachs.

In most cases, eating a few firm, tart strawberries simply results in a sour taste and slightly unpleasant sensation. However, individuals with digestive problems may experience more pronounced adverse effects like cramps, bloating, or diarrhea from unripe berries.

Risks of Using Chemical Ripening Agents

While commercial products can speed up strawberry ripening, some potential risks need to be considered:

– **Safety Uncertainty** – Little published research exists on the long-term safety of chemical ripening agents. Their effects when directly applied to food are not fully characterized.

– **Toxic Fumes** – Chemicals like ethylene glycol can produce toxic fumes that are hazardous if inhaled. Use only in well-ventilated areas.

– **Off-Label Usage** – These products are not approved for direct food application and using them this way qualifies as off-label usage.

– **Residual Chemicals** – Direct application risks residual chemicals remaining on produce, even after washing. Possible health effects are unknown.

– **Overripening** – It’s easy to over-ripen berries with agents, making them inedible. Shorter exposure times are needed.

– **Unavailable Data** – Most ripening agents lack complete safety data and toxicity information on labels.

The decision to use products like ethylene glycol rests with individual discretion. Alternative methods exist to ripen strawberries safely at home.

Can Strawberries Continue Ripening After Picking?

Yes, strawberries can keep ripening after being picked from the plant. Strawberry ripening is regulated by the following hormones:

– **Ethylene** – This gaseous plant hormone accelerates cell wall breakdown and induces ripening-related changes.

– **Auxin** – Responsible for growth, auxin declines as strawberries ripen, lowering fruit firmness.

Harvested unripe strawberries continue to produce ethylene and undergo auxin reductions. Exposure to supplemental ethylene further stimulates the ripening process.

Additionally, strawberries get no additional water or nutrients from the plant after picking. This stress can activate ethylene production and accelerate ripening.

However, strawberries do not increase in sweetness or ripen significantly after reaching full red color. Once detached, the major ripening changes have already occurred. Proper storage is needed to prevent deterioration after the ripe stage.

Do White Strawberries Ripen to Red?

White strawberries, native to Europe and Chile, do not change color from white to red during ripening. This is because they lack anthocyanin pigments. Anthocyanins create the characteristic red color in most strawberry cultivars.

During maturation, white strawberries experience internal changes like:

– Softening as cell walls degrade
– Increased sugar content
– Production of aroma compounds

However, they remain ivory or pale yellow when completely ripe. The lack of anthocyanins means no reddening can occur.

White strawberries tenderize, gain sweetness, and develop a flavor profile similar to red berries. But their final color is dictated primarily by their genetics rather than the ripening process. They reach peak ripeness without turning red.


Strawberries only partially ripen on the plant. They can continue ripening after harvest using natural home techniques like keeping at room temperature, paper bags, fruit acceleration, and ethanol fumes. Chemical agents are faster but involve uncertainty regarding safety and long-term effects.

Ripening strawberries to complete red color allows full sweetness and flavor to develop. Refrigeration is needed once ripe to prevent rapid deterioration. With the proper methods, you can successfully ripen strawberries to perfection at home.

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