OJ May Soon Come from HLB-Tolerant Fruit

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Some people like to wake up and drink a glass of fresh Florida orange juice. With the greening disease ravaging Florida’s citrus industry, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researchers want to make orange juice from disease-tolerant fruit.

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Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred, Florida celebrating their 100th anniversary on Wednesday, November 29th, 2017, with research and laboratory open houses and tours, as well as a faculty and VIP reception at the MacKay Estate.

Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening as it’s commonly called, has destroyed 80 percent of citrus in Florida, a state where citrus is an $8.6 billion-a-year industry, according to UF/IFAS research. About 90 percent of the state’s oranges are used to make orange juice, UF/IFAS researchers say.

So it’s critical that scientists find sources for orange juice upon which consumers can rely. UF/IFAS researchers have found some mandarins that are tolerant to citrus greening.

In a newly published study, UF/IFAS researchers also found that consumers sense little, if any, difference in the smell and taste of certain specific mandarins, compared to oranges.

“We found out what makes orange taste like orange and mandarin taste like mandarin, even though they are very close species,” said Yu Wang, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food science and human nutrition and lead author of the study.

“If we use greening-tolerant mandarin for orange-juice making, the first thing we need to know is the difference between them,” Wang said. “This will provide more possibilities and flexibilities for the citrus industry in particular in the HLB era.”

In the past, researchers used traditional methods such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to study the flavor differences in orange and mandarin, Wang said. But people’s senses of taste and smell are much more sensitive than analytical equipment, so scientists integrated sniffing into the study, she said.

It’s important to remember that oranges are descendants of mandarin and pummelos, said Fred Gmitter, a UF/IFAS horticultural sciences professor and co-author of the study. So there’s already a lot of mandarin’s genetic makeup in an orange.

The problem is that oranges are very sensitive to citrus greening, Gmitter said.

“While we find other selections in the breeding program, mostly mandarin, hold up a lot better against greening, we are finding some of these selections produce fruit that more closely resemble orange in appearance,” Gmitter said. “But more importantly, here, that they also very closely resemble orange in flavor.”

The study is published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

by Brad Buck, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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