April 19/DAILY MAIL (London) -- It's cool, colourful and delicious, and if that were not enough, the strawberry daiquiri is also good for your health.

The cocktail's combination of strawberries and alcohol could be just what the doctor ordered.

Strawberries are already known to be good at tackling free radicals, harmful molecules linked to cancer, heart disease and arthritis.

Now scientists who were looking for ways to keep the fruit fresh during storage have discovered that alcohol enhances the strawberry's disease-fighting properties.

The Cuban cocktail, said to have been a favourite of Ernest Hemingway, is a blend of rum, lime or lemon juice, strawberry liqueur, sugar and fresh strawberries.

Those not keen on rum might prefer to try a vodka-based strawberry martini. Even the trifle could be healthier than we realised.

The health-giving properties of blueberries -- the only other fruit looked at by the U.S. and Thai researchers -- were also improved by alcohol. It is likely many other fruits would be affected in the same way.

Produced naturally in the body, free radicals are harmful molecules which damage cells. Antioxidants, including some vitamins, and plant chemicals, minimise damage by mopping up the free radicals.

The research, published in the Journal of Science and Food Agriculture, showed that treating strawberries with alcohol boosts their natural antioxidant capacity by around a third.

The health benefits of strawberries were recognised hundreds of years ago, with the Romans believing the fruit eased ills from melancholy to liver disease.

Strawberries are rich in cholesterol-lowering fiber, potassium, which aids digestion, folic acid, which wards off heart disease, and vitamin B6, which plays a vital role in keeping the immune and nervous systems healthy.

Once a quintessentially summer treat, changing farming practices and climate mean the British strawberry is on sale earlier and earlier.

This year, home-grown fruits arrived on supermarket shelves in the first days of March, a full month earlier than the previous year's crop.

The increasing use of glasshouses and polytunnels mean British berries are likely to be available until the end of December.

From the April 23, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash