Forget Korea, the sweetest strawberries are now grown in Malaysia with help from Japan

PHOTO: Chitose Agriculture Initiative

Chitose, in Japanese, means 1,000 years. So through the millennia, the Chitose Agriculture Initiative (CAI) wants to improve and promote sustainable agriculture in Southeast Asia.

Founder Tomohiro Fujita decided to launch the Singapore-based biotechnology establishment after noticing that while the region flourishes economically, we aren't yet matured in producing food in an ecological way.

Thus, CAI partners with more than 50 artisan farms in Japan and Malaysia to evaluate different agricultural conditions while also educating and enlisting the help of local workers.

4 Japanese fruits that cost more than a luxurious meal

  • This bunch of 26 Ruby Roman grapes was the highest-priced at this year's first auction in Kanazawa, 300km north-west of Tokyo.
  • The previous record, set last year, was 550,000 yen (S$11,170). Each berry weighs at least 20g and is the size of a ping-pong ball, said the local board of agriculture.
  • In May, a pair of Yubari melons from Hokkaido - considered a status symbol - was snapped up for a jaw-dropping 1.5 million yen. A Sapporo-based intermediate wholesaler made the purchase, according to an official at the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market.
  • Although the price tag could be seen on a new car, it was a bargain compared to last year, when a box of two melons sold for US$20,670, the highest bid ever, reported the Wall Street Journal in a blog. The price of yubari melons varies depending on their size and class. One can go for more than US$100 in Tokyo's department stores.
  • A Japanese department store in Fukuoka, Kyushu's largest city, thought nothing of shelling out 300,000 yen last year for a pair of pristine mangoes grown in southern Japan.
  • Mangoes sold under the Taiyo no Tamago (Egg of the Sun) label are selected based on strict criteria. Each must weigh more than 350 g and have a high sugar content, according to the Miyazaki Agricultural Economic Federation.
  • Square and even heart-shaped watermelons are all the rage in Japan.
  • Over at the Shibuya Nishimura luxury fruit shop in downtown Tokyo, a cube-shaped watermelon, about the size of a baby's head, sells for 12,960 yen.

You can now forget about consuming sour strawberries from Cameron Highlands ever again. The expert agronomists at CAI have virtually perfected the use of its cutting-edge Japanese nous to produce some of the juiciest strawberries through re-cultivating the land in the popular Malaysian mountain ranges. These consistent harvests are now distributed across our sunny shores - from fine restaurants to the doorsteps of homes.

"We connected over a strawberry," said head chef Jerome of Nude Seafood, one of the suppliers of Chitose's premium strawberries, which are sold in a pack of about 200g. During a recent menu collaboration between CAI and the restaurant located at Marina Bay Financial Centre, dishes were presented that truly highlighted the high-quality Asian produce on a plate.

A guide to choosing the best fruits and vegetables at the supermarket

  • They should be firm, shiny, and brightly coloured.
  • If you plan to eat them straight away, choose those that are bright yellow, with little bruises. If you're buying a few days ahead, pick those that are mainly green with a tinge of yellow.
  • They should be glossy and full. Pick those with the stems attached, as they'll keep for longer than without. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Pick bunches that look quite plump, and most of the grapes should still be attached to the stem. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • They should feel heavy in the hand, and firm, just slightly yielding. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Choose heavy fruits that have a nice shine. The skin should be fairly smooth without too many pockmarks, and dents are a definite no-no. They should feel firm to touch, but not rock-hard. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Avoid the ones that are beginning to feel a bit mushy. For kiwis, you want them firm, and just a little yielding. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • The surface should be smooth and even. You want the melons to be heavy, as that's indication of juiciness. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • The leaves should look fresh, instead of dry and brown. Pick up the fruit and give it a whiff - it should be aromatic, and it should feel heavy too.
  • The strawberries should be uniformly red without patches of yellow. Fragrant strawberries are usually sweeter. Inspect the punnet from all sides to watch out for crushed or mushy strawberries, or signs of mould. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • The stalks should be smooth, straight, and be of a deep green hue. Tips should be closed.
  • The stalks should be firm and smooth, and the florets should be tight and dark green. The leaves should also be dark green. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Opt for bright orange carrots over paler ones. The skin should be smooth, and the carrots should definitely feel firm.
  • Choose the bundles that are light to medium green, preferably with fresh-looking leaves at the top. Skip those with bruises on the stalks. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Pick the ones that are heavy for their size, with tight florets, and free of spots and blemishes. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • When it comes to corn, look out for green husks instead of yellowing or brown husks. The kernels below should look plump and meaty. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • If buying garlic cloves by the bundle, skip the ones with shruken skin or those that have gone soft. For garlic bulbs, choose those that are firm, with the papery skin still intact.
  • If possible, check that the gills on the underside are tight, and the caps are closed, or just slightly open, around the stems. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • They should be firm and heavy, with dry, paper skins. Softness or moisture is not a good sign, and you should also avoid onions that are beginning to sprout. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Look for tomatoes that are bright red with smooth, wrinkle-free skin. It should feel plump but not rock-hard. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • You want bundles with dark-green leaves. If they look limp or wilted, skip. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

But if you want to get your hands on these year-round fresh strawberries without leaving the comfort of your abode, place an order online. The handpicked goodness can be delivered within 48 hours from harvest. Besides strawberries, plump cherry tomatoes cultivated by CAI from Cameron Highlands are also on sale while other seasonal ingredients air-flown from Japan, such as Bochan Kaocha pumpkin from Hokkaido and cauliflower from Aomori, are available in an omakase-style box.

In line with sharing the diverse cultural and technological perspectives from both sides of production and consumption, CAI includes a magazine in its omakase box to help consumers get to know more about the produce, be updated with the efforts that the company is undertaking, and be acquainted with the community of artisan farmers through their personal stories.

For more information or to place online orders, click here.

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Where and how long should you store your fruits for?

  • Should be consumed within two weeks.
  • To be eaten within two days.
  • Should be consumed within five days. Instead of the fridge, store these these ripe fruits at room temperature within the kitchen.
  • To be eaten within two to three days.
  • Should be consumed within seven days.
  • They should be kept at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Or store 'em in a cool, dry place. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Never store lettuce with fruits. As fruits ripen, they produce ethylene gas which causes yellowing, softening and rapid decay of lettuce, says Eric Cheam, executive sous chef, Mandarin Oriental Singapore.

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