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How Florida Strawberries Took Root in the Middle East

posted on: Jul 26, 2022

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

One highlight of summer is when those bland, pale, and tasteless strawberries of winter get replaced with those sultry, red sweet berries on supermarket shelves. If you get your berries from the farmer’s market, expect another level of peak flavor and ripeness. What many people do not know is that in the past few years, Florida strawberries have been growing and making millions of dollars in the Middle East, where there is a large demand for such a high-value, robust crop.

Royalties from Florida strawberry plants sold in Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Iraq, help fund the strawberry breeding program at the University of Florida and other fruit research and development. Egypt alone exports 40,000,000 tons a year of strawberries to over 30 countries.  

Florida strawberries are bred to do what other strawberries can’t, grow in a harsh climate of extreme heat and humidity. Therefore these particular strawberries fit  very nicely in the Middle Eastern climate, able to survive the drive to markets across bumpy country roads without getting too bruised.

Unlike in the United States, Middle Eastern farmers don’t have the luxury of spreading out and moving their crops around in large fields, as they have limited space. Strawberries are the perfect crop for them because they can be grown in great volumes on small parcels of land.

Whether people are getting their strawberries from Florida and California, or Egypt or Iraq, many people buy copious amounts of these glimmering rubies, knowing wistfully these juicy gems won’t be around for long. Then the inevitable happens and people end up with more strawberries than they can possibly eat, so having a backup plan to use the leftovers before they spoil is a good idea. 

While fruit pies and crumbles are beloved, savory preparations add new and unexpected flavors to this fruit without excess sugar. Herbs like basil or mint bring out complex undertones often missed in sugary desserts. Cheeses offer a creamy, rich and satisfying counterpoint to the juicy fruit. A finishing touch of balsamic glaze can surprise the palate even more. 

To help you get started, here is a Mediterranean recipe that utilizes strawberries for easy entertaining. Strawberry Bruschetta with fresh basil, balsamic glaze and goat cheese is an addictive combination of sweet and savory, crunchy and creamy. These loaded up toasts make great appetizers for your barbeque or for a light summer meal. 

To see the video technique of how to make these toasts, click on the video link below:

Strawberry Bruschetta

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, for brushing
  • 1 loaf crusty bread, thickly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze, divided (you can find this at Trader Joes)
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 8 ounces soft goat cheese
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil


Brush the bread slices with olive oil, and place on a grill until toasted on both sides. You can also bake them in the oven at 400 degrees for 7 minutes. Combine the strawberries with 1 tbsp of the balsamic glaze, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Allow the strawberries to macerate for 15 minutes.  Once the toasts are browned, spread with goat cheese, top with the strawberries, sprinkle with the basil, then drizzle the balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.

Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine”  which you can order here:   She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond.  You can check out her cooking video tutorials at    Her recipes can also be found at: