Why Are Some Strawberries White?

White strawberries

Red strawberries are the original strawberry color, but not the only one. While most strawberries are red, some strawberries are white! But what makes some strawberries white instead of red? Where do white strawberries get their color from? Are white strawberries GMO? Are white strawberries ripe?

Are red and white strawberries the same thing?

Red and white strawberries are not quite the same thing – while they are the same botanical fruit, as in the same species of fruit, strawberries, they are different subspecies. Not just this, but white strawberries also taste different from red, typically sweeter and less sour. As for color, white strawberries are not always entirely white, or even white for that matter. But they are ripe event though they aren’t red.

White strawberries

What do white strawberries look like?

White strawberries look just like red strawberries in certain respects: they’re pulpy, somewhat teardrop-shaped with dozens of tiny seeds embedded in the flesh and a crisp, clean pulp inside. Size varies with cultivar and growing conditions, and so can the shape. But it’s the color that really sets them apart.

White strawberries are white inside and out with bright pink to deep red seeds. Some cultivars are entirely white, while some are blushed with pink to various degrees, but the interior is always crisp white.

Some so-called ‘white strawberries’ are not even white, but rater pale yellow or golden. While some call them ‘white strawberries’ as in ‘not pink/red’, some call them ‘golden strawberries’ or ‘yellow strawberries’ to better reflect their color.

Where do white strawberries come from?

All white strawberries come from red strawberries.

White strawberries come from red strawberries. All modern-day strawberries share a common ancestor, the wild strawberry plant. The wild strawberry was picked up for cultivation and multiple varieties were developed over time. At one point, white strawberries emerged from red and their cultivation was continued as the novel color sparked great interest.

White strawberries can emerge from both wild red strawberry plants AND from cultivated red strawberry plants.

What’s most interesting is that white strawberries can emerge from both wild plants and cultivated plants, naturally. Of course, strawberries have also been bred to lack color. Plants with paler fruit have been selected and crossed intentionally to get increasingly paler fruit to the point white strawberries emerged.

White strawberries

Two of the ancestors of the modern-day garden strawberry produce white fruits naturally.

The modern-day garden strawberry with its large, deep red fruit and familiar strawberry flavor comes from wild species of strawberry. One such ancestor species is Fragraria vesca. Fragraria vesca is one of the few strawberry species that naturally produce white fruits. Native to Europe, Fragraria vesca naturally has deep red fruits, but has produced white fruits as well without any form of human intervention. Fragraria vesca also produces yellow/golden strawberries.

Another wild strawberry species with white fruits is Fragaria chiloensis. Fragaria chiloensis is one of the ancestors of the modern-day garden strawberry and it’s native to the West Coast of North and South America. It’s a red strawberry, but has been observed to produce white fruits too, naturally.

White strawberries are slightly genetically different from red strawberries.

Why are some strawberries white?

What makes some strawberries white instead of red? The answer is simple: a genetic mutation. The white strawberry is actually a genetic mutation itself. Genes in strawberries called Fra a encode several characteristics, including color in the ripe fruit.

In white strawberries, the expression of Fra a genes is inhibited or suppressed. According to research, ‘Fra a expression is directly linked to flavonoid biosynthesis’ (source). The color of red strawberries is owed entirely to flavonoids called anthocyanins which are produced naturally in the fruit.

Studies showed that when the expression of Fra a genes was downregulated, ‘fruits were obtained that produced significantly decreased levels of anthocyanins’ (source). And this is how you get white strawberries, or yellow or golden strawberries.

Are white strawberries GMO?

White strawberries are mutant strawberries!

It’s true that white strawberries are a mutant strawberry, but it’s not because they’re GMO. In fact, white strawberries are either natural mutations occurring spontaneously from wild and cultivated strawberry plants, or the result of human intervention, naturally bred over the course of years with the sole purpose of getting paler and paler fruit.

Where do white strawberries get their color from?

Where exactly does the color in white strawberries come from? What pigments cause some strawberries to be white? None actually. In fact, white strawberries are white because they lack pigmentation.

Due to a natural mutation affecting Fra a genes, some strawberries fail to produce pigments (anthocyanins) and this causes the ripe fruit to be white. Or yellow if it’s golden strawberries we’re talking about.

It happens with other plants too. Yellow raspberries, for example. Yellow raspberries are just like white strawberries – a discolored variety of the original fruit. Raspberries are naturally red, just like strawberries, but a natural mutation suppressed the gene that triggered the production of red pigments in the fruit resulting in yellow fruit. Find out more about what makes yellow raspberries yellow instead of red and where yellow raspberries come from.

It happens the other way around too. Tomatoes, for example. Black tomatoes, also called blue tomatoes or purple tomatoes, are both naturally occurring and genetically modified. That is, at one point in time, some tomatoes that should have been red underwent a spontaneous mutation that caused them to turn purple or a dark purple (black) color when ripe.