Despite their close relation to both plums and cherries, sloe berries are hardly a common fruit to come across in most supermarkets or shops. Hence, when we stumble across them in their natural environment, and we see them growing on spiny blackthorn bush in the middle of a hedgerow, it’s not unusual to wonder whether or not they’re fit for human consumption.
Well, wonder no more. I’ve covered everything you need to know about consuming sloes below!
So, can you eat sloe berries? You can eat sloe berries – both raw and cooked. What really matters is the timing. Whether or not a sloe will be to one’s liking is heavily dependent on whether it’s ripe. Cooking makes them much more enjoyable and appetizing for most.
Great news, I’d imagine.
Especially if you are considering eating a sloe on a walk at the precise moment in time.
Perhaps you’ve stopped and run this search on your phone.
You’ll be safe to eat them – you might not just enjoy them.
A lot has to do with whether they are ripe – and the next section will help you work out when that’s the case.
Then we will delve into how to best enjoy these fruits – so keep reading.
Besides, it may mean you might want to even stock up on some!
Can You Eat Sloes Raw?
Sloe berries can be eaten raw, at least from a health and safety perspective. Whether you should eat sloes raw is a different question altogether, and for the most part, they are not enjoyed when eaten this way.
Sloe berries are the perfect epitome of ‘small and mighty.’ It’s incredible that a fruit that usually only grows to be a mere centimetre long is capable of packing so much flavour.
But be warned. When a sloe berry is raw and still hasn’t achieved a ripe state, it tastes overwhelmingly bitter and tart and, as you can imagine, not at all pleasant.
The side effect that is perhaps most troubling of all is the sloe berries’ ability to unnaturally dry out one’s entire mouth.
The small unsuspecting berries contain many tannins and, as a result, are highly astringent in nature.
How Do You Know When Sloes Are Ripe?
You can spot when a sloe berry is ripe by the colour of its skin. When unripe, its skin will be an unmistakable shade of green as opposed to the deep purple/blue-black tone that they are most commonly associated with (and that presents when the fruit is ripe).
It is only in October or so each year that a sloe berry begins to ripen and exhibit its plum-like black-blue tinge.
Whilst eating a raw but ripe sloe undoubtedly makes for a far better experience than if it were in an unripe state, the sloe still remains very tart in taste and equally high on the astringency barometer.
For this reason, many advocate delaying the picking of sloe berries until the first frost of Winter has passed.
The school of thought here is that the cold conditions effectively break down the sloe berries skin, which in turn results in its starches converting to sugar as well as a decrease in the fruit’s tannin levels.
With more sugar and fewer tannins, many find that sloe berries finally taste not just bearable but surprisingly appetising too!
The only real qualm with waiting for the first frost of Winter before picking your sloe berries is that the fruit will have already been ripe for a while prior.
Hence, the window for predatory animals such as birds to get to them before you drastically increases, and thus, you consequently run the risk of harvesting far fewer berries than you would have otherwise.
To work around this, rather than waiting for the cold Winter to work its magic, many choose to pick their sloe berries when they first notice that they’re ripe and instead leverage their freezers to mimic the frosty conditions that break down their skin and bring out their greatness!
Read more: When To Pick Sloes – The Optimal Time Is…
Can You Eat Cooked Sloes?
You can eat cooked sloes, and this is typically the best/most advised way of doing so.
During the cooking process, their harsh sour taste dissipates and is replaced by a beautifully intense plum-like flavour.
It’s only at this point, once cooked, that sloe berries taste how one would typically assume they should once at first glance of their ripe skin.
There is no doubt that the most delicious way to eat (or drink) sloe berries is when they’re cooked. For many, this is the only way!
What can you make with sloe?
Sloe berries tend to be a fairly underrated ingredient, which is a great shame because their culinary potential is rather tremendous.
Nevertheless, when they are used, it tends to be in the Autumn and Winter months, in line with their harvesting schedule.
Hence, it’s only right, and extremely timely, that their profoundly rich plum flavour makes them the perfect candidate for a rich wintery liquor.
We’re talking sloe vodkas, slow wines, and perhaps most notably, sloe gin, the beloved seasonal tipple of choice for many.
From Mother’s Ruin to Tesco Finest, sloe gin is all the rage at the moment, and we’re highly doubtful that its popularity will be on the decline any time soon.
Not only does sloe gin exist as a perfect base for a beverage, but they are also often utilised in the making of many food dishes too.
From sloe gin cranberry sauce to sloe gin sponge puddings, it has the power to boost the flavour profile of any dish and of course, to get you slightly tipsy in the process!
Plus, if you’re after a taste of sloe berries without the alcohol, there’s bound to be a recipe for you too!
From flavoursome cheeses to balsamic vinegars, and plenty more, sloes have proven to be our trusted versatile friends.
What Do Sloe Berries Taste Like?
How sloe berries taste is entirely dependent on the state that they are in, which in turn informs how edible and fit for consumption, or not, they are. Before they ripen, sloes are extremely sour and astringent; once ripe, they offer a sweet plum flavor (intensified when they are cooked).
As the harvest and eventual cooking cycle continue on, the sourness and astringency begin to wear off with their ripening, offering the very first glimpse of this.
Next, their encounter with the first frost of Winter (or a freezer) results in a significantly reduced sharp taste.
And finally, when cooked, sloe berries are nothing short of a delight.
Their sweet plum flavour shines through to such an extent that it may even make you forget the dry state in which they left your mouth that one time!
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