The strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) is a native fruit tree to the Mediterranean basin, Western Europe, France and Ireland. It belongs to the Ericaceae family, the same as that of the popular blueberry and is also known as 'Irish strawberry tree', or cain or cane apple.
Although the strawberry tree is commonly used for ornamental reasons, the red berry fruit yielded by these evergreens is edible and remarkably similar to large cherries, except for the rough textured exterior skin. Once opened, the skin reveals a soft and grainy intense yellow pulp with a refreshing flavour, both sweet and sour.
Strawberry trees yield autumnal and winter fruits which usually ripen between November and December. That said, it's still not a commonly found fruit, but it's definitely worth trying if you are lucky enough to come across it when in season.
The Benefits of Strawberry Tree Fruit
Strawberry tree fruit is also rich in therapeutic properties because it's a great source of vitamins, tannins and pectins being full of anthocyanins and antioxidant polyphenols. There are also vitamins, including vitamin C: 100 g of fruits contain about 180 mg, so about 3 times the amount that can be found in an orange.
Strawberry tree fruit are also a natural remedy for combatting respiratory, and above all intestinal inflammation. Strawberry tree infusions are rich in antioxidants and tannins and can be used as a urinary antiseptic, while the decoction of strawberry tree leaves and roots can help to combat rheumatic pains.
Corbezzoli di Sardegna - Carlo - Flickr
Cooking with Strawberry Tree Fruit
The fruits of the strawberry tree can be eaten fresh or preserved in jams, liqueurs and syrups. The jam is excellent for filling whole wheat tarts prepared and the whole fruit adds a little extra oomph to cakes, biscuits and sweet buns. With the arbutus you can also prepare a particular vinegar, to be used to dress salads and cruditées.
Strawberry Fruit Tree Marmalade
To prepare this tasty jam, perfect for breakfast, take about a kilo of strawberry trees, put in a pot covered with cold water and bring to a boil.
Cook for about 20 minutes. Once the fruit is ready, drain and put in a fine sieve, in order to eliminate the seeds and obtain a smooth puree. In a saucepan add the puree, a third of the weight in brown sugar and the juice of a lemon. Cook until the jam has thickened.
Strawberry Fruit Tree Honey
Strawberry tree honey is very rare and valuable. It has a fine and creamy consistency, with very fine crystals, when it is liquid an intense amber colour that becomes lighter when honey solidifies. The taste is bitterish, with hints of coffee, cocoa bean and rhubarb - perfect for true connoisseurs.
Other fruits similar to the strawberry tree fruit
One of the strawberry trees closest botanical relatives is the blueberry, which is also in the health family. Like its arboreal cousin, blueberries are great for jams and preserves and also work well for baking. But when it comes to blueberries, it is hard to top blueberry cobbler (unless you happen to be vanilla ice cream, in which case topping the cobbler is what you do best).
If you are just judging by appearances, you might confuse a strawberry tree fruit with the lychee, which a fruit native to south-eastern China and grown throughout Southeast Asia. Like the strawberry tree fruit, its outside is red and spiky, but you have to peel the lychee, revealing the lustrous white flesh you eat. You can find more about this fruit and recipe ideas here.
All this talk about strawberry tree fruits may have given you a craving for strawberries themselves, which are connected to the shrub-grown fruit by name only. Even so, you can indulge in a surprising and colourful strawberry risotto as a unique way to get your fix.