Strawberries – Local vs. imported vs. organic

A couple of the coworkers in my office made a great suggestion the other week – to do a taste test on local produce vs. imported vs. organic. There are a number of farmer’s markets in Toronto that take place during the summer months plus there is a big push to support locally grown produce.

Thing is, even though the produce is coming directly from the farm and you’re supporting local businesses, there is a bit of a price to pay (literally). Many of the products sold at the farmer’s marketst are more expensive compared to their imported counterparts that you can find at the large grocery store chains.

Is it worth it to buy local produce when it costs a premium? Personally, I think it’s all going to come down to taste.

Since it’s strawberry season right now (and the season only lasts for a few weeks in Ontario), we decided to use strawberries for this taste test.

We taste tested three different types of strawberries:

  • Local (Ontario)
  • Imported (California)
  • Imported Organic (California)

My theory:
I have to admit that the cost difference is quite staggering. Both local and organic strawberries cost $5/pint while imported ones cost $3/pint. It makes me wonder if the local or organic strawberries will taste so much better that it warrants paying nearly twice as much.

I don’t think there will be much difference between the imported and organic strawberries – which are basically both from California but just use different growing techniques. Theoretically, there really shouldn’t be any flavour differences between the imported strawberries and the imported organic strawberries (they’re both from the same farm in California). However, this will be a good time to find out.

I have a feeling that the imported strawberries might still come out on top from a flavour vs. value standpoint. It will be interesting to see if the flavour of the local strawberries is convincing enough to make it worth paying a premium for them.

Taste testers:
Please try each of the strawberries and comment on flavour and appearance.
Which one do you like the most and would you be willing to pay twice as much for the ones you prefer?

The reveal:
A (green): Imported (California)
B (pink): Organic (California)
C (orange): Local (Ontario)


The results:
Most of the taste testers preferred either the organic or the local strawberries but indicated that the taste differences weren’t significant enough to warrant paying a premium. However, it seemed like the choice to support local farmers was more of a motivating factor to buy local. It looks like we have a number of responsible consumers in our group.

However, it’s been a wet season in Ontario and the strawberries aren’t as sweet this year so that is also a factor as well.

I preferred both the organic and local strawberries. They both were similar in flavour and sweetness but the local strawberries were slightly sweeter/more flavourful. They both cost $5/pint so knowing this, if I had to choose between the two I would choose to buy local because they do taste better (although I don’t know if it’s worth paying twice as much).

The bottom line:
Overall the local strawberries did taste better (but most people agree that it’s not worth paying twice as much). However, you are supporting local industry and since the strawberry season is so short in Ontario (3-4 weeks)if the growing seasons are good that year, I would be inclined to pay more for more flavourful strawberries. You support the local farmers and you might as well enjoy sweeter local strawberries while you can.

I was totally surprised that the organic strawberries tasted different than the non-organic. Theoretically you wouldn’t think that this would be the case but in this taste test there was a noticeable difference.

But from this taste test it looks like it all boils down to personal preference.

12 thoughts on “Strawberries – Local vs. imported vs. organic

  1. A: sour/tart, bit of crunch
    B: not sour, more flavour, less crunch: LOCAL
    C: sweet/sour

    The 3 I picked all look the same.
    Paying twice the price, maybe just to support our local growers, that is IF you can find them!
    Thanks Lisa and Monica!

  2. That's a hard one …

    A – SOUR! but I picked a small one. Took another strawberry and it tasted good. Not the sweetest but juicy. I'd say it's pretty blend. It is hairy compared to the other strawberries.

    B – Good. Nice color, soft.

    C – It's the sweetest! Nice deep color, soft and juicy! My favorite!

    I have no clue which is which so it's a wild guess for me. Can't really tell them apart because they look pretty similar.

    a – Organic
    b – Local
    c – Imported

    Thanks Monica and Lisa!

  3. I enjoyed "c" the best since they were the most flavorful and sweet; I'm guessing these ones were the local strawberries. "a" was also good- perhaps these are the organic strawberries? "b" i enjoyed the least, they weren't as sweet or flavorful- imported?

  4. A looked really good but it was tart and the least flavourful.

    B looked really good and tasted really sweet. My favourite of the three.

    C was bruised. I tried to eat around the bruising but the state of the berry still affected the taste; it tasted similar to A with regard to flavour, although a little sweeter – maybe due to the bruising?…

    To be honest, I'm not sure if B is local but if it is, I still wouldn't be willing to pay a premium price.

  5. I tried to get strawberries at the same visual stage of ripeness but this was a little difficult so here's my best guess

    A – Imported pale in colour – tart
    B – Local – semi-sweet
    C – Organic – sweetest of the group probably because the strawberry was the ripest.

    If the quality of the berries were the same for all types I would pay more for inseason local berries to support the Ontario farmers.

  6. Here is my guess
    green; california; less sweet, firm, sour taste
    pink: organic; softer, fruitier taste
    orange: local; softest texture, more tasteful, sweeter, great colour, different sizes and shapes
    My favourite is the orange ones

  7. All strawberries looked similar, which surprised me. I thought I could spot an Ontario strawberry a mile away. Strawberry B was my favourite…sweet and juicy. I'd like to say that B was the Ontario strawberry, but given it hasn't been a great season for Ont. strawberries (I've had some already), so I think B is the organic California. A was sour and a little pulpy; I didn't even finish it. I think it's the regular California. Strawberry C was sweeter than A but not as sweet as B and I found the flavour to be a little "off". I think it's the Ontario strawberry but a little passed it's peak. It was also very soft and juicy. Alas, I look forward to being wrong….as I'd love the Ontario strawberry to win the contest. Thanks Lisa. This was a great test.

  8. A: firmer texture, less sweet than C, also a bit sour – regular
    B: sweeter than A but not as sweet as C; more watery than A – organic
    C: mushy texture but sweet -Ontario grown

    Favourite pick: B

  9. A: tart, juicy, least red out of the 3 – imported from the US
    B: very sweet, lovely strawberry flavour, nice red colour, soft – organic and imported from the US? It's too big in size to be Ontario grown
    C: mine is really tart (more than A) as well, also nice red colour – softest of the 3 in texture (more soft than I'd like). Local? I thought local was sweet! Mine is not at all 🙁

    My pick: B!

  10. A: Lightest in color. Not as flavourful. Most watered down.
    B: Darker red color. More sweet.
    C. Also darker red. Tastes very similar to B but slightly sweeter/more flavourful.

    Would I pay more for one versus the other? This was a really hard call because from a flavour standpoint, B and C did taste better than A. But is it worth paying almost double? Probably not (except for the fact that I'd like to support the local farmers).

  11. I wish I could have participated! Sounds like it was very informative.
    I always feel it's worth it to pay more for local even though I agree that this year's Ontario strawberries were not the greatest.
    We should do this again with blueberries and raspberries.

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