Strawberries Aren't Berries And Those Aren't Seeds On The Skin

High summer means berry season, but you might be shocked to find out that a lot of the things we call berries actually aren't — and some might not even technically be fruit.

Strawberries are one of these confusingly named pieces of produce. Strawberries technically aren't berries or even fruit, but instead an "accessory fruit" or "swollen receptacle tissue." Gross but accurate.

Many people are familiar with the somewhat-true idea that berries grow their seeds on the inside, while strawberries wear them on the outside of the fruit. But even these "seeds" aren't actually seeds. Those are the actual fruits of the plant, and each of these tiny fruits contains a minuscule seed. (So you're basically getting a bunch of fruits for the price of one!)

Berries are actually defined by a three-layer system consisting of an exocarp (skin), mesocarp (pulp), and seeds, but strawberries don't follow this structure at all.

What are berries?

Fruits are created from the flowers of fruit-bearing plants, as delicious morsels meant to entice birds to eat them and spread their seeds across the land, creating new plants. Fruits are really the ovaries of the plant, and berries are formed from single ovaries. So all berries are fruits, but not all fruits are berries. Many plants that are botanically considered berries aren't considered berries in the culinary world, like bananas and pumpkins. And many of the juicy, thin-skinned small fruits we call berries in the culinary world — like strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries — aren't.

These accessory fruits (also called "false fruits"), like strawberries, pineapples, and figs, are not formed from the ovary but from a different part of the plant. All squashes are part of this group as well.

But the word berry, which comes from Old English, has been used colloquially to describe any number of fruits, from blueberries and cranberries (which are actual berries), to masqueraders like raspberries and blackberries.

So what are strawberries?

Strawberries and raspberries are actually part of the rose family, Rosaceae, and if that sounds surprising, it's worth remembering that roses produce accessory fruits, rose hips, the little red orbs that look like berries and taste like hibiscus.

Strawberries and raspberries are also part of a group of "fruits" called aggregate fruits, which are actually clusters of small drupes, each with its own seed. A lot of "berries" are aggregate fruits, identifiable by their textured surface of juicy round clusters.

The good news is, it doesn't really matter what you call them because strawberries are just as delicious whether they're berries or whether they're swollen receptacle tissue. (Okay, maybe we'll stick to calling them berries.) So go pick up a carton of these aggregate false fruits and make a (not quite) strawberry shortcake or a strawberry shrub that will preserve the flavor of this fruit long after it goes out of season.