During the last half century, plant breeding has been focused on traits related to plant health and growth to ensure crop success for producers and the supply chain. Plant breeders have devoted their breeding research to boosting features like high yield, transportability, uniformity and shelf life while breeding for taste and variety largely fell by the wayside.
That’s now beginning to change. A growing group of plant breeders, producers, consumers chefs and farmers are part of a nationwide movement to develop rich, flavorful varieties for everything from potatoes and butternut squash to peppers. They aim not only to make the process of eating more enjoyable but to get diners to eat truly delicious fresh produce.
The basic scientific process behind coaxing out a crop’s flavor follows the same steps used to select for any horticultural trait, whether it be color, shape or pest resistance. Scientists cross two plants to produce offspring that share the best characteristics of the two parent plants. They repeat the process with the ongoing offspring of the original parents, each time reemphasizing the choice traits. Eventually they wind up with a new crop variety with the enhanced, unique characteristics of their choosing. The process can take anywhere from a year to a decade or longer, depending on the complexity of the plant’s underlying genetics.
Selecting for flavor is trickier than something like disease resistance, which can be easily measured. Crop breeders are adept at enhancing varieties for a given trait but achieving a certain flavor can be elusive. Taste is subjective and depends on when a crop is harvested, how it is stored, how it is prepared and who is eating it.
In this webinar, industry experts came together to discuss principles of tomato breeding and production for taste, which can be applied to all seed grown fruits and vegetables. Chow-Ming Lee and Tomas Lomas from Bayer discussed how consumers view taste and how tomato breeders are breeding for it. Matt Quiring of NatureFresh Farms discusses how they trial and select the best tasting varieties to best meet their consumer’s demands.