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From U-pick to the grocery store

Florida’s blueberries make for a tasty treat

As we enter the heart of Florida’s blueberry harvesting season, you can now enjoy the yummy fresh fruit during its finest hours, say University of Florida experts.

For about 80 years, many Florida-grown blueberries have been developed through the UF/IFAS blueberry breeding program. The vast majority of blueberry acreage in Florida is planted with UF/IFAS varieties.

Patricio Muñoz, an associate professor of horticultural sciences, leads the program. Muñoz constantly evaluates new blueberries to see which ones taste best and will grow well in Florida.

“Our program uses technology and tasting panels to define what to move into the commercial pipeline,” Muñoz said.

Up to 300 people taste the fruit before Muñoz moves a blueberry variety toward commercial release.

“Consumers prefer firm fruit and a balance between sugars and acids,” he said. “Also, many other naturally occurring chemicals significantly affect whether you like the fruit. So, the breeding program uses all this information to decide what to breed next and what to move to the pipeline that one day will delight the consumer palate.”

Those who savor blueberries will like all of the newer UF/IFAS southern highbush varieties, said Doug Phillips, statewide blueberry Extension coordinator. The newest cultivars, ‘Albus’ and ‘Sentinel,’ scored high in consumer taste panels at UF/IFAS.

In addition to ‘Albus’ and ‘Sentinel,’ ‘Optimus,’ ‘Arcadia’ and ‘Avanti’ have been popular among Florida blueberry growers and should remain popular this season, Phillips said.

“Each of these produces a high yield and has great flavor, among other favorable characteristics,” he said. “Emerald also remains popular among growers in Central Florida. Even though it is an older cultivar, it grows well in that part of the state.”

Many people love to gather their own fruit from blueberry U-pick farms. U-pick operations can be found through northern, central and southern Florida counties. Try looking here for a U-pick farm near you. If you opt to buy your blueberries at the grocery store, ask your produce manager for Florida blueberries by looking for the “Fresh from Florida” label.

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