U of F Researchers Try to Produce Perfect Blueberry
In an effort to create the perfect blueberry, researchers at The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) have been hoping to find out exactly what people want when they purchase them. As part of a three-year study led by Jim Olmstead, UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences, early surveys from last year were conducted to find whether flavor or psychological reasons (perception of health benefits) was the most important reason for purchasing and consuming blueberries. Results indicated flavor is the number one incentive for buying blueberries followed by the health benefits. 61% said they eat blueberries for the flavor, while 39% eat blueberries for the antioxidants, nutrients, and health benefits.
Several hundred people were involved in more recent surveys that broke the blueberries down into six traits which included flavor, color, texture, firmness, size, and nutrition. Each of those traits was then broken down into six different categories. The researchers conducting the study wanted to learn as much information as they could about what consumers wanted, because a new variety of blueberry can take up to a decade to develop. They needed the results to be as thorough as possible.
The information they gathered from the extensive research allowed them to identify precisely which compounds produced certain flavors popular with the survey participants. They then focused on the compounds that were genetic and could be reproduced in breeding new hybrids. The researchers were also interested in which cultivars would grow in several different environments.
With the research from UF/IFAS over the last 20 years, the Florida blueberry industry has quickly grown into a $70 million industry. Because they have developed southern highbush cultivars that ripen in late April through May, Florida is producing blueberries during a time of year when no other state in the US can.