Published on 08/13/09

Getting a taste of blueberries

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Most consumers agree that crispness and sweetness are the two most important things they want in a tasty blueberry. But all ages and sexes don’t agree on what makes for a good overall berry, says a University of Georgia expert.

To improve the quality of blueberries, it is important to find out what consumers prefer when it comes to taste and texture, said Robert Shewfelt, a food scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

To get the answers, he and his team used four different rabbiteye blueberry cultivars: two from one location and two from another. Rabbiteye blueberries are harvested in summer. They plan to test an early-maturing variety called highbush next year.

“All the Georgia blueberries that we tested were highly acceptable,” he said.

Surprisingly, they found in the second test that testers most preferred the seedier variety because of its sweetness.

“Sweet trumps seedy,” Shewfelt said.

They also found that people 40 years of age and older had different blueberry taste preferences than those in the younger age categories. And males and females have different views when it comes to the best blueberries.

“The men were more picky,” Shewfelt said. “They rated some more unacceptable. If they didn’t like it, they weren’t afraid to rate it unacceptable.”

The data will be presented to blueberry growers at the 2010 Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association’s conference.

UGA received a grant in 2008 to learn how to better harvest blueberries, improve their quality, treat their diseases and find out what consumers prefer.

“Our overall interest is defining quality in terms of the consumer, and then understanding from chemistry what that means,” he said.

Blueberries peak Shewfelt’s interest because of both their health and economic benefits.

“The other main interest we have is that it’s a very important crop, at least in Bacon County,” he said.

Bacon County farmers grow more than 4,500 acres annually. Fresh, you-pick and frozen blueberries there had an off-the-farm value of $24 million in 2008. Statewide, blueberries added $61 million to the economy, down from $76 million in 2006.

Blueberries added more to Georgia’s economy last year than peaches ($49 million), tomatoes ($51 million), cantaloupes ($21 million) and strawberries ($5 million).

It’s more than a moneymaker for most Georgians, said food science doctoral student Katie Robbins.

“It reminds them of childhood,” she said.

She helped Charlene Battisti, a French student interning with Shewfelt this summer, understand the work of a food scientist and American culture.

Battisit was pretty sure her first taste of a fresh blueberry was just recently in Athens, Ga. In her native France, she mostly sees the Georgia staple in yogurt.

“I asked my mother, and we have blueberries in France,” she said. “But fresh, I don’t remember tasting it.”

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.