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Analysis of fresh strawberries reveals consumer preferences

WINTER HAVEN, FLFresh strawberries. Just the mention of this iconic spring and early summer fruit can elicit mouthwatering memories of shortcake, fruity drinks and sweet desserts. Researchers interested in learning more about this evocative fruit have determined that "sensory quality" of strawberries, a strong influence on consumer preferences, is the result of a complex balance of sweetness, aroma, texture, and appearance.

The goals of a recent study by a research team from the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma, Florida and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Winter Haven, were to reveal factors affecting the "eating quality" of promising strawberry selections in the University of Florida breeding program, as well as the impact of harvest date on the fruits' chemical and sensory characteristics.

According to lead author Anne Plotto of the USDA-ARS, the researchers evaluated five selections and one cultivar of the University of Florida breeding program as well as two new cultivars from Australia ('Rubygem' and 'Sugarbaby').

The sensory study took place at the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center during 2006 and 2007. Participants were employees from, and visitors to, the center. In 2006, 50 and 51 panelists participated in the February and March panels, respectively, with 62% to 63% female panelists. In 2007, 60 to 66 panelists (36% to 52% female panelists) participated in the taste panels. Panelist ages ranged from younger than 26 to older than 65 years old, with the majority of panelists between 36 and 55 years old.

The sensory evaluation showed that tasters determined a high variation among Florida strawberries in terms of flavor, sweetness, and tartness preferences. 'Festival', the main strawberry cultivar grown in Florida, had low ratings for flavor and sweetness in January and March. Selection 'FL 00-51' (now named 'Florida Elyana') and 'Rubygem' had relatively high and consistent ratings for flavor and sweetness compared with the other selections.

Plotto summarized the results, stating; "This study shows that aroma volatiles and sugar levels must be balanced to ensure a flavor appealing to consumers. Although germplasm strongly influenced volatile composition and perceived flavor, harvest date and season were also found to be an important factor influencing strawberry composition. Genotypes with low flavor ratings were most often judged as "not sweet enough" by the panelists, thus linking flavor to sweetness preference".


Contact: Michael W. Neff
American Society for Horticultural Science

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