What comes to mind when you think of Fukuoka? I usually think of Hakata ramen. I’m reminded of the yatai that line the streets along the river in Fukuoka City, selling deep, steaming bowls of the tonkotsu-style ramen with its rich, creamy broth made of pork bones.
Fukuoka Prefecture, located on the island of Kyushu in the southwestern part of Japan, is also known for something equally delicious: strawberries. Hakata Amaou is a special variety of strawberry that farmers in Fukuoka Prefecture developed in 2002.
What’s in a Name?
Here’s a handy way to explain the acronym that “Amaou” forms.
The ABCs of Amaou Strawberries
A for theあ of あかい (akai) = “red”
MA for the ま of まるい (marui) = “round”
O for the お ofおおきい (ookii) = “large”
U for the うof うまい (umai) = “tasty”
Farmers cultivate Hakata Amaou in greenhouses, using bamboo sticks to hold up the leaves so that the strawberries are exposed to good sunlight. The space between the plants is wide to give the strawberries as much sunlight as possible, and bees cross-pollinate the strawberries. These methods produce large fruit with a gorgeous red color. Hakata Amaou strawberries are juicy and have a sweet, but not overbearing, flavor that is slightly acidic. They are perfect in sweets, especially strawberry shortcake. Adding them to yogurt and a glass of sparkling sake will add the perfect amount of sweetness and juiciness.
Not Just Delicious
In addition to its juicy sweetness, Amaou strawberries are also nutritious. They contain dietary fiber that absorbs and eliminates toxins and other harmful substances from the body. One Amaou strawberry has half as much vitamin C as one lemon, and it can help boost your immunity as well as increase collagen production. It also contains potassium, which is an anti-inflammatory.
In 2015 the Guinness Book of World Records certified that a Hakata Amaou strawberry that Koji Nakao grew in Fukuoka was the world’s heaviest strawberry. Weighing in at 8.82 ounces (250 grams), the strawberry broke a record that a man in England held for 32 years. (Chahi Ariel of Israel broke Nakao’s record in February 2021.)
Enjoying these strawberries come at a cost. ZEN-NOH Fukuren, the Fukuoka Prefecture headquarters of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, reported that sales reached 1,450 yen/kg (almost $12 per 2.2 pounds) for Hakata Amaou in 2018. At recent pop-ups at RESOBOX, a Japanese cultural center in Long Island City and the East Village, the strawberries sold for $40 a pack.
Where to Find Them
Grown exclusively in Fukuoka, Hakata Amaou are enjoyed by people across Japan. There are more than 20 farms throughout Fukuoka Prefecture where the public can pick strawberries during the season, which runs from November to mid-March.
Japan exports the strawberries to Hong Kong and Taiwan. As for New York, we were lucky that RESOBOX facilitated pop-up markets, but their recent pop-up at The Market Line in Essex Market was the last of the year. We’ll have to wait until November to try the juicy sweetness of Hakata Amaou again!