With inflation, I’ve been gawking at prices in the grocery store for weeks.
But nothing made my eyes widen like strawberries priced at $19.99 for a package containing less than a dozen in my local Whole Foods. The high price has nothing to do with inflation. The picture-perfect strawberries actually used to cost more, running for $50 a package until May.
What I was looking at wasn’t an ordinary strawberry. The Omakase Berry, which is grown and distributed by Oishii and is available in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles, is different.
They are beautiful. Uniform in color, ripeness and taste. It’s no wonder they’re being embraced on TikTok and Instagram, with users such as Jaeki Cho calling it “the best strawberry I’ve ever had in my life” and saying the fruit looks “wild exquisite.”
But is the taste superior to a regular strawberry? Is the difference enough to justify the extra cost? I did a taste test to find out.
What is an Omakase Berry?
Omakase Berries are vertically farmed indoors and are pesticide-free, non-GMO and perfectly ripe, touts the Oishii website.
“We started Oishii with a commitment to revolutionize the future of food by offering the best-tasting produce, grown in a way we believe is better for people and better for the planet,” CEO and co-founder Hiroki Koga tells USA TODAY in an email.
Because the berries are grown indoors, they’re also unaffected by weather and are available year-round. Oishii, which means ‘delicious’ in Japanese, cracked the code to growing strawberries at a large scale inside, says Kogi.
“Strawberries are widely considered the ‘holy grail’ of the vertical farming industry because of the long cultivation cycle and complicated pollination process,” he says, adding Oishii created “the perfect ecosystem for bees,” something very difficult to do in vertical farming.
What does an Omakase Berry taste like?
Koga says Omakase berries are “a flavor experience unlike any other.”
He explains that, in Japan, there are hundreds of strawberry varietals and the one he imported is known for “its exceptional sweetness, creamy texture, and sweet aroma.”
Naturally, I had to try them myself.
Last week, I went to Whole Foods (which is, so far, the brand’s only major retail partner) and bought three packages of strawberries: regular for $3.79; organic, which were normally $4.99 but on sale for $3.99; and Omakase for $19.99.
The Omakase Berry: It came with instructions to let the berries come to room temperature before eating, which I did. It was more aromatic than its counterparts and the coloring was lighter and brighter. Each on was soft, juicy and deliciously sweet.
The other strawberries: The regular and organic strawberries were from Driscoll’s. The regular ones were the largest and darkest in color. They were also very succulent and smelled great. The organic option had a softer scent, was smaller and had a more tart flavor.
Quick take: All three were delicious. I would eat them all again. I wouldn’t buy them all again, though. (Keep reading for my final thoughts.)
How much are Omakase berries?
Berries come in medium, large and extra-large sizes. For $20, you can buy a package of 11 medium, eight large or six extra-large. And that’s if you’re in the distribution areas in New York, New Jersey or Los Angeles (Oishii is expanding soon).
“Our Omakase Berry is a premium product,” Kogi says. “Due to its sweetness being greater than conventional berries and the varietal, they take longer to grow.”
But the price is coming down as Oishii expands. In the last year, the company opened its largest farm to date and lowered the cost per package. Before May 19, a package of berries that now costs $20 went for $50.
“Our mission has always been to make our berries available to more customers and with the opening of our new farm, we can now deliver on that promise,” Kogi says, noting that the company is looking to expand into other fruits.
Are Omakase berries better for you?
Kogi says Omakase berries are more “nutrient rich” and that many consumers are eating it the same day it’s been harvested.
“Having one was like getting that one perfectly ripe berry in a pint of berries, except all of the berries in the container were that degree of perfect ripeness,” she says.
But even though the taste is very good, that doesn’t mean they are better for you in a nutritional sense.
“Fruit at peak of ripeness usually taste sweeter,” Hamshaw says. “This is because ripening converts starch to sugar, increasing the fruit’s sugar content. To my knowledge, though, the berries aren’t significantly more nutritious overall.”
That said, strawberries are part of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen.” But Oishii doesn’t use pesticides — even those that are organic, Kogi says.
What happens to the imperfect berries?
When I looked at the Omakase Berries, I noticed that no package of berries looked different from its peers. So, what happens to berries that aren’t ideal?
Kogi says the brand uses “all” of their strawberries by up-cycling them.
“We work with brands …. to create products with our imperfect berries,” he says, referring to Brightland’s “LUSH,” an Omakase Berry vinegar. “Additionally, chefs love to use our berries in dishes, desserts and cocktails – our imperfect berries are used in a cocktail at ABCV in New York City.”
My take: Omakase Berries aren’t worth $20
Something about experience of eating the berries, while pleasurable, felt a little off. As someone who eats a lot of produce, their perfection made me uncomfortable.
Usually, when I pick at a box of strawberries some are tart, some are sweet and some are bruised. That’s life. But none of these were. They were uniformly flawless.
To me, part of the joy of eating strawberries is finding the biggest berry or the berry that tastes best within the pint. And not spending a lot per package. I’d rather spend $20 on cooking at home or put it toward a restaurant meal.
Fruit shouldn’t have to be “perfect.” It’s wonderful these innovative berries are being grown without pesticides and in a manner that reduces waste. And they did taste good. Hopefully they’ll continue to get cheaper, I just wouldn’t shell out another $20 for them now.
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