BALM, Fla. — A white strawberry? Not red? Yes, you “read” that right. And it smells a little like a pineapple. It’s also novel in that it’s the first white strawberry to go to market in the United States.
Just in time for the west-central Florida strawberry harvesting season, which runs from now until the end of March, UF/IFAS is releasing not one, but two new varieties – and the white strawberry is one of them. The other: another cultivar that UF/IFAS’ primary breeder says tastes oh-so-good.
Neither variety has a name yet. They’re known by numbers, which is typical early in the cultivar-release process. So far, they’re known as ‘FL 16.78-109’ (the white strawberry) and ‘FL 16.30-128’ (the red strawberry), said Vance Whitaker, a UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences and a strawberry breeder.
“Because the white strawberry is being test-marketed this year, there has been a lot of interest in it,” said Whitaker, a faculty member at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. In fact, a grower told Whitaker that some chefs like the new fruit.
When it’s ripe and ready to eat, it is white inside and out, with a slight pink blush on the skin and red seeds, he said.
“The flavor is very different from a typical strawberry, sweet but with a pineapple-like aroma,” Whitaker said. “White strawberries have been popular for some time in Japan, but this is expected to be the first white strawberry on the market in the United States.”
You can find white strawberries in nature, he said. Breeders have harnessed this naturally occurring trait, crossing white strawberries from the wild with modern strawberries to create something different in both appearance and taste.
Here’s how the white strawberry came about.
In 2012 strawberry seeds from Japan were sown at the University of Florida, and a few small plants recovered. The seeds were sown, and a few small plants were recovered. The pollen from these plants were crossed with a Florida variety. The seedlings from this cross-produced fruit that ranged from white to pink to red, Whitaker said.
“Commercial trials have been promising so far,” he said. “Pickers can tell when the fruit is ripe when a slight pink blush develops on the side of the fruit that is most exposed to the sun, and when most of the seeds turn red. By 2022, these new white strawberries should be available in U.S. grocery stores. They will probably be marketed as “pineberries” because of the pineapple aroma.”
Whitaker also touts the consistently even red color and conical shape of the new red variety, making the fruit more attractive.
Here’s how the colors differ in the two strawberries: The red from a typical strawberry comes from pigments called anthocyanins. White strawberries produce much lower amounts of these compounds in their flesh than red strawberries, Whitaker said.
As harvest arrives, farmers will welcome the new red and white strawberries from UF/IFAS, Whitaker said. UF/IFAS researchers and the Florida Strawberry Growers Association estimate strawberries generate about $300 million annually for those who farm them.
Out of the 10,000 acres of strawberries in west-central Florida, the new red strawberry may occupy as much as 300 acres in Florida during the 2021-2022 season, and if it continues to perform well, that number could grow.
The white strawberry, or “pineberry,” will be grown on fewer acres since it is a new specialty product. It will take time for farmers to become comfortable growing it, and it will also take time to educate consumers about this new fruit.
“The new red strawberry is notable for its outstanding flavor,” Whitaker said. “Because of its high sugar level, it tastes somewhat similar to (another UF/IFAS variety called) Sensation®, which is currently one of the leading varieties in Florida, yet with a more intense flavor due to the fruit’s higher acid content.”
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