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Fruit could taste better with far-red light

U. FLORIDA (US) — Light may one day be used to improve the flavor and nutritional content of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even the scent of flowers.

Scientists have known for hundreds of years that plants respond to light in a variety of ways. But the results of a new study show how specific light wavelengths can manipulate volatile compounds that control aroma and taste in several high-value crops, including petunias, tomatoes, strawberries, and blueberries.


Scientist Kevin Folta examines a plant being treated with LED lights of various wavelengths. (Credit: U. Florida)

For the study, published online this month in the journal Postharvest Biology and Technology, researchers exposed petunia cuttings to narrow bandwidth LED light in varying wavelengths.

They found that a key floral volatile called 2-phenylethanol increased when the plant was exposed to red and far-red treatments. Far-red is a hue so far on the color spectrum that humans can’t detect it, but plants can.

Similar tests conducted on tomatoes, strawberries, and blueberries show that flavor volatiles in each of those fruits could be manipulated with light.

Blueberry volatiles changed the least, but the changes were still statistically significant, says Kevin Folta, chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida.

The technology will likely find its way into grocery store produce sections, greenhouses, and food companies involved in postharvest handling and shipping. And consumers might someday find the technology used in their homes as well.

“You might even see it used in your refrigerator—instead of you closing the door and the light goes out, you’ll close the door and the light goes on,” Folta says. “And it’ll all happen in a way that positively influences the flavor profiles of food.”

Folta and colleague Thomas Colquhoun, assistant professor in environmental horticulture, are now working with dentistry professor and taste expert Linda Bartoshuk on a study that will test whether consumers can taste differences in light-treated fruit.

Source: University of Florida

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