Tasty tomatoes from the greenhouse

On Tuesday the 6th of March the first MOA excursion of 2018 took place in Bleiswijk as we were invited to visit WUR Greenhouse Horticulture, whom also happen to be one of our customers. The Greenhouse Horticulture business unit is over 7500 square meters and is divided into around ninety departments. As a visitor, you immediately notice the huge experimental greenhouses that are dedicated to innovating for and with the greenhouse horticulture sector.

The WUR Greenhouse Horticulture is a service provider on flavour and quality of vegetables and fruits. They have consumer panels, trained expert panels and laboratory measurements available for their projects. When setting up a consumer or sensory test, there are many factors which influence the taste of fresh vegetable and fruit products. For example:

  • Breed
  • Cultivation method
  • Seasonal differences
  • Time of harvest

An innovative project they are currently working on is the development of flavour models. These models are able to predict the outcome of their consumer panel. This will allow them to investigate many products without the need to use their consumer panel all the time. For each type of fruit and vegetable a different flavour model needs to be developed. Both tomatoes and strawberries have a model available at the moment. Flavour models for sweet pepper and melon are currently being developed. The tomato flavour model for example uses instrumental input parameters for sensory attributes and calculates the liking on a 0 – 100 scale. Although the flavour models will never fully replace the consumer panel, it is a useful method to give a quick insight between e.g. product variations or to screen products on a larger scale.

 

Besides flavour research WUR Greenhouse Horticulture also investigates what the best methods are to grow crops in greenhouses. Growing crops in greenhouses is more expensive than on the field,  it does however come with some advantages. For example there is more control and protection, more possibilities for year round cultivation and labor can be optimized or automated. Some projects they are working on are investigating the cultivation of vanilla, tropical fruits and black pepper in greenhouses.

Shortly after the presentation we went on a tour of the greenhouses in order to get a first hand look, and smell, of some of these projects. Out of all the various crops we were able to look, touch and smell from close up (cucumber, avocado, pepper, mango to name a few), the one that everyone seemed to favor the most was the space where fresh vanilla pods were harvested. This was, naturally, because the smell was amazing.

After our tour of the greenhouses we were split up in two groups and were taken to the different test areas. The first place we were taken consisted of an area that is used to simulate shopping in the fruit and vegetables isle in a (super)market. This simulated store shelve was created to allow visual assessment of the products. Depending on the type of products, different store shelves can be displayed such as a fruit and vegetable shelve or a plants and flower shelve. After a short introduction on how this area was practically used, the tour continued by showing us what went on behind the scenes of the WUR’s sensory evaluation process. One instrument that stood out was a machine that could simulate a bite and was used to measure the density and hardness of the skin of various tomatoes. During this time we had the chance for a round of Q&A, which gave us a lot more insight into the daily processes of the WUR.

The excursion ended with a drink and a tomato tasting. We tasted two tomatoes, which were the same breed but had a different cultivation method. It was surprising that one had a more sweeter taste than the other. If you are interested in learning more about WUR Greehouse Horticulture, please visit their website by clicking here.