Most consumers have had the experience of buying vegetables because they look great, and then being disappointed by how they taste. That's one of the main considerations in a new initiative at the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, called the "Seed To Kitchen Collaborative”.
The initiative brings together the farmer and plant breeder to work on organic vegetables that will perform well in the field and on the farm, and that will actually taste good.
"In modern times a lot of plant breeders have been breeding for higher yield, thicker skin so that it handles better, transporting, and things like that; maybe brighter colors, but not necessarily for taste,” said Christine Welcher, garden manager at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, one of the participants in the Collaborative.
Welcher said shelf-life and shipping tolerance have often trumped taste in the development of crops, but this new initiative works to focus on flavor. She emphasized that fresh-market quality, ease of growing, and sales appeal are still important considerations, but flavor is a top priority in this program.
According to Welcher, the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative asks growers to take into account a number of factors in evaluating the seed for the project.
"If you have this unbelievably delicious tomato but it just looks so weird that nobody will buy it, then that doesn't really help either,” Welcher said. "So they want our feedback on how well it grows, how easy it is to grow, and also how well it sells at the farmers market."
Although taste can be subjective, Welcher said they've found there really isn't a lot of disagreement among their gardeners and farmers market customers about what does and does not taste good.
And there's another dimension of the Collaborative that involves the professional taste buds of local chefs.
"Some of the produce is sent back to the UW and it goes out to chefs, and they then give feedback on how it tastes, how well they can use it in their cooking in their kitchens, and what they like about it,” Welcher said.
She said this kind of detailed feedback helps professors, organic farmers, plant breeders, and chefs create more tasty fruits and veggies for consumers.