Developing a premium strawberry flavor... Is controlled environment agriculture the answer?

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: GettyImages / Royalty-free
Photo Credit: GettyImages / Royalty-free

Related tags: FFAR, strawberry, Flavors, CEA

Flavor experts or even astute consumers will say that biting into a strawberry can taste very different depending on where, when, and how it was grown, such as in a wild or commercial setting.

While other fruit flavors such as yuzu and dragon fruit may be considered trendier in the current food and beverage landscape, consumers' love for strawberry hasn't wavered. According to FONA International's 2021 fruit flavor trends report​ based on Mintel GNPD data, new products launches featuring strawberry grew 23% between 2019 - 2020, and strawberry is considered an everyday flavor for many consumers. 

Despite consumers' familiarity with strawberries, the flavor can vary greatly, noted Dr. John Reich FFAR (Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research) scientific program director and director of PIP (Precision Indoor Plants) 

"Some can be described as having a flavor of Hawaiian Punch or Sweet Tarts, while others taste like pineapple,"​ said Reich, who is leading the call for research applications addressing premium strawberry flavor development using controlled environment agriculture (CEA) practices. 

FFAR is currently accepting research pre- applications​ until November 10, and will invite a final round of those applicants to submit a full application in January 2022.

Premium strawberry flavor development

According to Reich, the variability in flavor when it comes to a fruit such as the strawberry has gone largely unexplored and absent in the market is a premium strawberry flavor that can be controlled and replicated consistently in an indoor growing facility. 

"Because you can control an environment much more precisely than you can outdoors, you can really understand how these metabolic pathways are controlled," ​said Reich.

"The controlled environment offers the opportunity to more precisely control the chemical constituents that are found in a fruit or plant as a whole, and could advance flavor breeding that way."

End goal

The goal for the call for research applications is to figure out a way to eventually produce a strawberry flavor that could command a premium price in the market, explained Reich, who noted that "premium flavors"​ in this context meant the development of novel strawberry flavors, not the enhancement of existing flavor varieties. 

"We know that flavor is really chemically complex and that you can have variability in flavor not only due to genetics but also due to the variability on how you produce it. We want to understand the different chemical constituents that comprise a novel flavor,"​ said Reich. 

"This will give us insight in how to produce these flavors consistently, but it will also give us a lot of insight and control of metabolic pathways, some of which I believe will be very important for us to understand how to create more nutritious foods with novel lucrative chemicals."

Beyond flavor development

Future implications for this type of research could have an even greater impact beyond flavor development, added Reich.

"Plants have secondary metabolism that control a lot of different things, some of which are flavor but also nutrition and other compounds that come from that. I don’t think we know a lot about how to control those pathways, and a decent amount of it is environmental control,"​ he explained. 

"There’s the flavor piece of it, but scientifically it’s very interesting because you understand how to control chemical production in plants through environmental control that can lead to more nutritious crops."

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