Flavor Is Back

The Lempert Report
July 09, 2021

Franco Fubini, founder of UK fruit and vegetable supplier Natoora told the BBC that "Flavor is a re-emerging trend, without a doubt."

He says that finding truly tasty fruit and vegetable varieties can be difficult, who is to blame? He says it’s largely due to the requirements of supermarkets. "They started demanding that varieties have a longer shelf life, so for example in the case of a tomato, it has a thicker skin, so the skins don't split more easily; a tomato that perhaps ripens faster, that can absorb more water.

"So over time you breed your varieties for attributes other than flavor. The flavor attribute starts falling in importance, and as nature has it, if you breed for other traits you breed out flavor." We’ve all experienced it. Those bright red 2 inch high strawberries in February are a perfect example. One bite into the crunchy fruit leaves us totally unsatisfied as many of the fruits and vegetables that are out of season and grown elsewhere require longer shipping times and are too often picked before they are ripe – and in some cases processed with gasses or other means that can turn their outsides into colors that may look appealing, but have few nutrients and less flavor. Fubini says that is about to change. "Some of this rebirth comes from restaurants because chefs have quite a lot of influence," he told the BBC. "That and travel have both spurred on this rebirth of flavor, this search for flavor." Fruit and vegetable breeders and researchers are paying attention and leading this search, using sophisticated techniques to produce fruit and vegetables that have all the flavor of traditional varieties - while still keeping the supermarkets happy. Prof Harry Klee of Florida University's horticultural sciences department is working to understand the chemical and genetic make-up of fruit and vegetable flavors. It is possible, he says, to use genetic modification (GM) to improve flavor by importing genes from other species, but in much of the world produce created this way is banned and consumers shy away from GMOs.

As we have reported here before the new technology that is changing the way our fruits and vegetables look and taste is CRISPR - which tweaks existing genes within the plant by cutting and splicing. Finding that flavor gene if you will and turning it on, while perhaps turning other genes off that may reduce spoilage and increase shelf life. Fubini is not a fan. “While sometimes innovation done right maybe does work well, we believe in tradition and not necessarily messing with things - and going back to nature and the way nature functions."