Organic and conventional strawberries are equally tasty, Ohio survey finds

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WOOSTER, Ohio - Do organic foods really taste better than their conventionally grown counterparts?

According to an Ohio State University Extension survey, when it comes to strawberries, consumers can’t tell the difference.

The survey, in its first year of evaluations, found that based on looks, taste and smell, consumers could not tell the difference between organically grown and conventionally grown strawberries within the same variety.

Making distinction. Research has shown, however, that consumers can make the distinction between varieties and when other conditions are factored in, such as the length of time a product sits at the market.

“When testing within a strawberry variety, we found no consumer detectable differences between organic and conventional,” said Joe Kovach, an Ohio State Extension entomologist who participated in the research.

“When people say organic tastes better, it’s because of things like distance to market or a different variety.”

Simple term. Organic production, in its simplest terms, means that a crop is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or growth regulators and is managed through traditional practices such as composting, crop rotation and tillage.

Other studies have reported that organic foods taste better than conventionally grown products, mainly due to the cultivation practices and the lack of fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides that are applied to the crop.

In the Ohio State study, researchers grew the strawberries using the matted row system and applied livestock manure to the organic strawberries and synthetic fertilizers to the conventional strawberries.

In the stores. Kovach said the survey results shed light on how a crop is grown, how it’s harvested, stored and processed, and even what markets it’s shipped to.

“The bottom line is people can’t tell the difference in nutrient uptake whether it comes from a synthetic fertilizer or a compost.

“But they can tell how long something’s been sitting on a shelf,” said Kovach.

“When you go into a grocery store, you’re going to pick up a fruit or vegetable that is home-grown, rather than something from California. Something closer to home is fresher and tastes better than a crop that was shipped halfway across the country and has been sitting in a store for days.”

Marketing help. He said the data is intended to aid Ohio growers in improving the production and marketing of organic crops.

The researchers used Seneca, Jewel and Idea, more commonly grown strawberry varieties in Ohio, for the survey.

They harvested the same-sized berries in the same fields at the same time and asked a panel of 24 taste testers to identify which berries were organic and which ones were conventionally grown.

Kovach said the survey involved a triangle test, whereby participants were given three strawberries – two that were organic, one that was conventional or vice versa.

Blind study. “We didn’t ask them to pick which one was organic and which one was conventional. We asked them to pick the one that was different, either in taste, smell or appearance. So it was a blind study,” said Kovach.

“If participants were able to tell the difference or took a guess, they would mark the one that was different. After which analysis showed they really couldn’t tell the difference between organic and conventional.”

The researchers plan to conduct another survey this year and will incorporate other composts, like vermicompost and yard waste into the study to determine if consumers can detect differences between them.

They will also conduct chemical analyses among strawberry varieties to determine if chemical differences might enable some consumers to detect the difference between organic and conventional crops.

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