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Article|01 Apr 2021|OPEN
Strawberry sweetness and consumer preference are enhanced by specific volatile compounds
Zhen Fan1, Tomas Hasing2, Timothy S. Johnson3, Drake M. Garner3, Christopher R. Barbey1, Thomas A. Colquhoun3, Charles A. Sims4, Marcio F. R. Resende5 & Vance M. Whitaker1,
1Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida, IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, Wimauma, FL, USA
2Elo Life Systems, Durham, NC, USA
3Department of Environmental Horticulture and Plant Innovation Center, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
4Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
5Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

Horticulture Research 8,
Article number: 66 (2021)
doi: 10.1038/hortres.2021.66
Views: 301

Received: 24 Aug 2020
Revised: 16 Dec 2020
Accepted: 06 Feb 2021
Published online: 01 Apr 2021


Breeding crops for improved flavor is challenging due to the high cost of sensory evaluation and the difficulty of connecting sensory experience to chemical composition. The main goal of this study was to identify the chemical drivers of sweetness and consumer liking for fresh strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa). Fruit of 148 strawberry samples from cultivars and breeding selections were grown and harvested over seven years and were subjected to both sensory and chemical analyses. Each panel consisted of at least 100 consumers, resulting in more than 15,000 sensory data points per descriptor. Three sugars, two acids and 113 volatile compounds were quantified. Consumer liking was highly associated with sweetness intensity, texture liking, and flavor intensity, but not sourness intensity. Partial least square analyses revealed 20 volatile compounds that increased sweetness perception independently of sugars; 18 volatiles that increased liking independently of sugars; and 15 volatile compounds that had positive effects on both. Machine learning-based predictive models including sugars, acids, and volatiles explained at least 25% more variation in sweetness and liking than models accounting for sugars and acids only. Volatile compounds such as γ-dodecalactone; 5-hepten-2-one, 6-methyl; and multiple medium-chain fatty acid esters may serve as targets for breeding or quality control attributes for strawberry products. A genetic association study identified two loci controlling ester production, both on linkage group 6 A. Co-segregating makers in these regions can be used for increasing multiple esters simultaneously. This study demonstrates a paradigm for improvement of fruit sweetness and flavor in which consumers drive the identification of the most important chemical targets, which in turn drives the discovery of genetic targets for marker-assisted breeding.