A Better Strawberry?

Researchers and chefs in North Carolina aim to breed a better berry, and consumers will have an opportunity to add their input.

North Carolina researchers hope to breed a better strawberry.

North Carolina researchers hope to breed a better strawberry.

iStockphoto.com/Michael Haul

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Kannapolis, North Carolina – North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute touts the merits of strawberries for the nutritional punch they deliver. Rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber, strawberries not only taste good, they are good for you. But researchers with the Plants for Human Health Institute believe they can make the berries even better. To help out, they have teamed up with chefs from the Johnson & Wales University culinary education program in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In a first-of-its-kind project, funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation, North Carolina State plant breeder Dr. Jeremy Pattison is looking to the partnership to help him tap the culinary industry’s expertise. He will determine specific attributes – flavor, color, texture and size – that can be incorporated into his strawberry breeding efforts.

Consumers and industry produce buyers get in on the act, too. They will have the chance to participate in taste test panels, which will help identify what they like best about specific varieties of berries. The taste panels will be coordinated by Sensory Spectrum, located near the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. Sensory Spectrum, a globally recognized management consulting firm, specializes in understanding the sensory-consumer experience.

In addition to the research, the effort, known as “The North Carolina Strawberry Project,” taps into the nation’s growing interest in local foods. Project coordinators will introduce Johnson & Wales students, the “chefs-of-tomorrow,” to local farmers and agricultural research. The payoff stands to benefit communities nationwide when these future chefs, no matter their location, open their own businesses and seek out nearby farmers.

North Carolina State expects the ultimate beneficiaries to be the consumer. By facilitating relationships between plant breeders, chefs, farmers and consumers, project coordinators hope more people become aware of and involved in the food production process. The state’s economy could benefit as well. Project coordinators expect to grow strawberry sales from $20.8 million to $26 million.

Anyone who loves strawberries can benefit now. Chef Mark Allison, dean of culinary education, and students at Johnson & Wales University, have created recipes that feature this most-consumed berry.

The N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute is part of the N.C. Research Campus, a public-private venture including eight universities that collaborate in the fields of nutrition and health.

The N.C. Strawberry Project is a partnership of N.C. State University (including the Plants for Human Health Institute and N.C. MarketReady) and Johnson & Wales University. This project received support from the Golden LEAF Foundation. Learn more at the N.C. MarketReady website or find us on Facebook.