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Scientia Horticulturae xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
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Scientia Horticulturae
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Towards a new definition of quality for fresh fruits and vegetables
Marios C. Kyriacoua, , Youssef Rouphaelb
Department of Vegetable Crops, Agricultural Research Institute, 1516 Nicosia, Cyprus
Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Naples Federico II, 80055 Portici, Italy
Functional quality
Genetic improvement
Positive stress
Quality standards
Sensory perception
The quality of fruits and vegetables constitutes a dynamic composite of their physicochemical properties and
consumer perception. Attempts at defining quality often discriminate between intrinsic characteristics inherent
to the nature of the products, dictated by genotypic, agroenvironmental and postharvest factors, and extrinsic
characteristics influenced by socioeconomic and marketing factors which condition consumer perception of the
products and formulate quality standards. The current regulatory context for fruit and vegetable quality comprises crop-specific class standards based on key visual and limited compositional criteria and lays primary
emphasis on visual attributes at the expense of flavour, nutritional and functional attributes related to phytonutrient content. The potential quality of fresh fruits and vegetables in the horticultural supply chain is defined
in the period preceding harvest, however the full development of quality characteristics can be optimized
through the use of appropriate postharvest technology. The current review provides a discourse on the relative
significance of the various factors configuring quality in fruits and vegetables, with emphasis on intrinsic factors
pertaining to the preharvest period, and also on extrinsic factors shaping quality for supply chain stakeholders
and consumers. Preharvest factors discussed include: 1) optimization of stage-specific production inputs, 2)
biofortification through targeted plant nutrition, 3) application of accurate crop- and cultivar-specific harvest
maturity indices, 4) optimized application of controlled stress conditions that increase primary and secondary
metabolites and improve organoleptic and functional aspects of quality, and 5) redirection of horticultural
breeding towards improving flavour in horticultural products.
1. Introduction
1.1. Product quality and consumer perception
The quality of fruits and vegetables constitutes a dynamic composite
of the physicochemical properties pertaining to horticultural commodities and consumer perception. The difficulty in coining a universal
definition of quality in reference to horticultural products stems to an
extent from the multiple stakeholders partaking to the horticultural
supply chain, each acting essentially as a consumer in relation to the
preceding chain member (Abbott, 1999; Watada, 1980). Attempts at
defining quality often discriminate between intrinsic characteristics
inherent to the nature of the products, dictated by genotypic, agroenvironmental and postharvest factors, and extrinsic characteristics influenced by socioeconomic and marketing factors which condition
consumer perception of the products and formulate quality prototypes
(Schreiner et al., 2013). Consumer acceptability for the products is
reflected ultimately in sales figures, with recurrent purchase of particular products constituting an unequivocal measure of their quality
(Kader, 2008). Indeed, consumer studies relative to horticultural products have indicated that when price varies within the anticipated
range, purchase decisions are based on perceived quality rather than
price (Harker et al., 2003). However, consumer needs and perception of
quality are not static but rather evolve along with changes in gender
roles, increasingly individualized lifestyles, time allocated to food
preparation and in response to such extrinsic factors as product marketing, population flux, gastronomic trends, health concerns and food
scandals (Jabs and Devine, 2006).
It has been proposed that product-oriented and consumer-oriented
approaches at defining quality in horticultural products promote different attributes of quality, with the former laying emphasis preferentially on quantifiable traits relating to appearance and shelf-life,
and the latter on consumer behaviour and needs (Shewfelt, 1999). It
may be easily construed that neither approach alone can produce an
adequate definition of quality: instrumental quantification of key
quality traits provides essential tools for standardization and monitoring of fruit quality along the horticultural supply chain, whereas an
understanding of actual consumer needs and purchasing behaviour is
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (M.C. Kyriacou).
Received 6 August 2017; Received in revised form 22 September 2017; Accepted 26 September 2017
0304-4238/ © 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Please cite this article as: KYRIACOU, M.C., Scientia Horticulturae (2017),
Scientia Horticulturae xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
M.C. Kyriacou, Y. Rouphael
1.2. Quality standards and regulations
necessary for supplying pertinent products of optimal quality. Promoting the daily consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables requires a
fundamental understanding of consumer perception of quality to guide
our attempts at optimizing and diversifying quality along the horticultural supply chain. This necessitates the linking of recent advances in
instrumental quantification of quality attributes with quality as perceived by consumers. The lack of external validation in instrumental
quantification of quality attributes is an important issue raised eloquently by previous researchers (Schreiner et al., 2013). Lack of external validation means possible dissonance between what is measured
and what is actually perceived by consumers. In simple words, we have
a plethora of reports on how various factors influence particular quality
aspects of fruits and vegetables, e.g. firmness, colour, soluble sugars and
acids, or volatile fractions, but we have limited understanding of the
impact that variation in these attributes has on perceived quality.
Moreover, we have a limited understanding for the relative weight each
of these aspects has on perceived quality across different horticultural
commodities, and also a limited understanding of their synergistic
function in eliciting psychophysical and psychochemical sensory responses (Bartoshuk and Klee, 2013). Flavour is an integrated sensation
of taste and olfaction. Basic taste characters (sweet, sour, salty, bitter),
combine with retronasal olfaction, elicited by volatiles released from
foods during chewing and swallowing and forced into the nasal cavity
from the rear of the palate, to produce a central flavour sensation in the
brain (Bartoshuk and Klee, 2013). As opposed to the pleasure elicited
by taste, olfactory pleasure is considered largely acquired and subject to
conditioning effected through pairing olfactory stimuli with other
sensory stimuli of hedonic impact. Olfactory stimuli may even function
as cues to nutritive value as many flavour volatiles are derived from
essential nutrients (Goff and Klee, 2006). Sensory assessment of quality
using trained sensory panels is time-consuming and costly therefore it is
scarcely coupled to instrumental analysis; however, combined sensory
and instrumental assessments are imperative for establishing an interpretive framework for the latter and facilitating their extensive use in
constructing predictive models of quality for horticultural products in
the supply chain. This is aptly exemplified by the recent advances in
mass spectrometry analysis which provide highly analytical compositional profiles of the volatile fractions in fruits and vegetables; however,
they generally lack a resilient basis for interpreting the relative abundance of particular components in terms of actually perceived aroma
(Saftner et al., 2007). Ultimately, quality is perceived as a sensory experience not in parts but as a whole which translates to the degree of
consumer satisfaction and influences future purchasing behaviour.
Arguably, a heavily product-oriented approach toward quality of
horticultural products has been propelled mainly by advances in postharvest physiology and technology (Shewfelt, 1999). Key first-level
attributes that momentarily influence purchase decisions, such as size,
shape, colour, absence of defects and firmness, have been disproportionately associated with quality. Preservation of visual quality
has been the main target of postharvest technological advances and
recommendations at the expense of flavour and nutritional value.
Likewise, plant breeding has aimed emphatically at improving yield,
disease resistance and postharvest life (Bai and Lindhout, 2007). It may
be argued that progress in these respects has been made at the expense
of quality, as breeding for shelf-life may elicit adverse pleiotropic effects on desirable sensory attributes, such as texture and flavour
(Causse et al., 2002). However, fruit and vegetable consumption is
driven primarily by flavour, delivered at affordable prices. Visual
quality and flavour quality usually do not coincide as postharvest life
based on flavour is shorter than postharvest life based on appearance
but cultivar selection is primarily based on the latter (Kader, 2008). For
instance, the production of volatile flavour compounds in melon genotypes is associated with ethylene-dependent pathways and with dramatic textural changes, rendering short shelf-life genotypes the most
aromatic (Pech et al., 2008).
The emphasis on visual attributes is also evident in the current
regulatory context for fruit and vegetable quality which comprises cropspecific class standards based on key visual and limited organoleptic
criteria [Commission Implementing Regulation (EU), 2011]. These
standards essentially constitute mere acceptability thresholds and provide practical, effective and for the most part non-destructive means to
facilitate product standardization, ensure product homogeneity and
ease the logistics of the supply chain. They address quality aspects of
concern primarily to chain intermediates and less so to the ultimate
consumers who experience the products organoleptically. The current
regulatory context for quality standards denominates quality classifications for fresh fruits and vegetables based mainly on product integrity, the degree of visible defects and on simple morphometric
characteristics of the products. Reference to compositional aspects that
reflect organoleptic value is limited to the soluble solids content (SSC)
and the titratable acidity of the juice of very few products (e.g. citrus,
grapes). However, even the limited references to criteria such as the
SSC are not intended to promote excellence in product quality but only
to provide a questionable base reference for acceptability. For example,
the United Nations UNECE Standards for Watermelons (UNECE, 2015)
and the U.S. Standards for Grades of Watermelons (USDA, 2006) dictate
that the refractometric index (SSC) obtained at the middle point of the
fruit must be equal to or higher than 8 °Brix for taste to conform to a
sufficient state of ripeness and comply to USDA optional “good internal
quality” standard. Yet experienced researchers and extension specialists
would argue that acceptable organoleptic quality in watermelon requires a SSC of at least 10 °Brix (Kyriacou et al., 2016, 2017; Maynard
et al., 2002).
Further to the above, current regulations fail to address complex
compositional aspects relating to the organoleptic, nutritional and
bioactive value of fruits and vegetables, which are increasingly attracting consumers’ attention (Schreiner et al., 2013). The gap between
regulatory standards and consumers’ expectations is more effectively
addressed by commercial quality assurance and standardization systems that encourage the collaboration of producers and marketers and
facilitate the sourcing of superior flavour quality products across seasons and production areas in the context of consolidation and vertical
integration in the global fresh produce market (Kader, 2008). On the
other hand, the consumers’ perspective on quality is evolving beyond
traits akin to mere sensorial satisfaction to encompass the nutritional
and the functional aspects of foods related to their phytonutrient content. Thus the terminology of quality must expand to cover functional
quality aspects which currently lack a consistent regulatory context
(Vergari et al., 2010). It is also important to address socioeconomic and
environmental factors that underlie our perception of quality. High
visual quality standards arguably increase the volume of food waste and
condition consumers’ expectations for visually impeccable horticultural
products in a world where food security emerges as a colossal issue
while currently about one third of world food production is never
consumed (Gustavsson et al., 2011). Consumers’ expectations for flavour are met with discontent partly because they have been trained to
construe aesthetic homogeneity as tantamount to quality. Promoting
the nutritional and functional aspects of quality also requires that
consumers expand their perception of palatability beyond carbohydrate-rich products to cherish the nutritional value in fruits and vegetables of more astringent, bitter, sour and pungent flavours. Studies on
consumer behaviour have demonstrated that increased concentrations
of phytonutrients with chemopreventive features characterise foods
most aversive in taste and this constitutes a challenge for the diversification of plant genetic resources used in food production (Drewnowski
and Gomez-Carneros, 2000).
Notwithstanding the above considerations, addressing issues of organoleptic quality deterioration is undoubtedly critical for increasing
the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and efforts must be
Scientia Horticulturae xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
M.C. Kyriacou, Y. Rouphael
made to formulate quality assurance systems that generate incentives
for producers of quality horticultural products. Advances in non-destructive methods of quality assessment, such as NIR/Raman spectroscopy and ultrasonic methods, might prove immensely valuable in enabling the monitoring of quality of horticultural products during the
production period and along the postharvest supply chain (Mizrach,
2008; Nicolai et al. 2007; Schulz and Baranska, 2007). Meanwhile, the
foundation of all efforts for advancing the quality of fresh fruits and
vegetables lies with the genotypic and agroenvironmental factors that
configure quality at harvest which postharvest stakeholders of the
horticultural supply chain subsequently manage.
(Schonhof et al., 2004). Deterioration of flavour quality in modern
commercial tomato hybrid cultivars compared to heirloom varieties is
also one of the main reasons for consumer disgruntlement. Tieman et al.
(2017), address this problem by proposing a chemical genetic roadmap
necessary to improve tomato flavour. The authors were able to identify
the genetic loci that affect most of the target flavour chemicals including acids, sugars and volatiles. Taken together, there is an urgent
need to exploit G × E interactions with further verification of quality
responses under various management scenarios in order to allow for
effective introgression of selective fruit quality genes into elite inbreeds
to yield superior vegetable and fruit hybrids.
2. A preharvest perspective on quality
2.2. The agro-environmental components of quality
2.1. The genotypic components of quality
Water availability in the root zone constitutes another important
agronomic factor modulating quality in fruits and vegetables. Several
water-saving irrigation management strategies (e.g., deficit irrigationDI, regulated deficit irrigation-RDI or partial root-zone drying-PRD)
potentially optimize water use efficiency by subjecting crops to mild
water stress with no effect or only marginal decrease in yield and
product quality (Costa et al., 2007). However, the effects of DI strategies are crop-specific and elucidating how different crops cope with
mild water stress is the basis for the successful application of this
strategy into practice. Several fruit trees and vines such as apples, olives
and grapevines seem well adapted to deficit irrigation (Costa et al.,
2007). The decrease in vegetative growth caused by DI and/or PRD
increases the exposure of pome fruits and berry clusters to solar radiation and may improve soluble solids content, total phenols and
aroma volatiles (Mpelasoka and Behboudian, 2002; Santos et al., 2007).
Contrary to fruit trees and grapevine, vegetable crops are characterized
by shallow root systems and tend not to cope so well with mild and
especially severe water stress conditions, which lead to losses in yield
and quality (Costa et al., 2007).
The management of crop mineral nutrition is another major preharvest factor that influences yield and quality characteristics of fruits
and vegetables (Wang et al., 2008). In this respect, soilless culture
presents practical, effective and targeted tools that facilitate the precise
control of plant nutrition (Fanasca et al., 2006a, 2006b; Colla et al.,
2013; Lucini et al., 2016). Compared to traditional soil cultivation,
soilless cultivation systems (i.e., substrate culture and floating raft
systems) offer the opportunity to standardize the cultural process, to
obtain faster growth, year-round production, higher water and nutrient
use efficiencies. Moreover, they provide the possibility of regulating
secondary metabolism by proper control of nutrient solution composition and concentration (Borgognone et al., 2016; Colla et al., 2013;
Fallovo et al., 2009a, 2009b). Moderate salinity or nutritional stresses
can be easily applied by managing the electrical conductivity and
concentration of the nutrient solution in order to increase the composition and concentration of phytochemicals (Colla et al., 2013;
Rouphael et al., 2012b). Furthermore, changes in antioxidant content of
important vegetable crops in response to nutrient solution composition
effected by modifying the cationic (K/Ca/Mg) or anionic (N/P/S) proportions have been also achieved (Fanasca et al., 2006a, 2006b; Fallovo
et al., 2009a, 2009b). This approach may constitute a sustainable approach for modulating secondary metabolism to improve functional
quality. It is also interesting to note, that efficient reduction in the accumulation of undesired compounds like nitrates, most notably present
in leafy vegetables, could be especially feasible under soilless systems
(Tomasi et al., 2015). For instance, a short nitrate-starvation obtained
by replacing the nutrient solution with a nitrate-free one or with plain
water for one to five days before harvest, or alternatively by replacing
nitrate (e.g., calcium nitrate) with chloride (e.g., calcium chloride) may
raise the quality of leafy vegetables while maintaining yield
(Borgognone et al., 2016; Tomasi et al., 2015). In the same context,
desired elements such as selenium and iodine can also be added to the
nutrient solution in order to achieve the targeted biofortification of
Preharvest factors can have significant and profound effects on the
physicochemical, organoleptic and functional quality of fruits and vegetables at the time of harvest (Weston and Barth, 1997). The synthesis
and accumulation of health-promoting metabolites, termed phytochemicals, depends mainly on the genetic material and the developmental stage of the produce, but the phytochemical profile is also influenced by agronomic practices and environmental factors, in
particular the microclimate (Wang et al., 2007). The genetic material is
a key preharvest factor and major determinant of variation in physicochemical, organoleptic and functional quality of fresh fruits and vegetables, including bioactive compounds with antioxidant activity,
often surpassing the impact of agronomic (e.g., irrigation and fertilization) and environmental factors (e.g., light, temperature and atmospheric CO2) (Kyriacou et al., 2017; Rouphael et al., 2012a, 2016,
2017). Traditionally, horticultural breeding programs have aimed at
developing hybrid cultivars with desirable agronomic characteristics
such as high yield stability, disease tolerance and long shelf-life (Dorais
et al., 2008). Only recently, have breeding programs turned their attention to the sensorial and functional quality traits of horticultural
crops such as apple, broccoli, cabbage, cranberry, lettuce, onion, potato, raspberry and tomato (Khanizadeh et al., 2006a, 2006b, 2006c,
2007; Tsao et al., 2003, 2006). However, the development of new
cultivars on the basis of health-promoting compounds is still in its infancy, as only a limited number of such genetic lines and cultivars have
been released at commercial level (Wang et al., 2007). For example,
plant breeding programs are using traditional and/or biotechnological
approaches to the effect of increasing the concentrations of lycopene
and other carotenoids in new tomato hybrids by up to three to four
times compared to their parental lines by incorporating genes that enhance lycopene expression and by suppressing genes that can prevent
its synthesis (Lindsay, 2000). Similarly, increased antioxidant capacity
has been achieved through the modification of the flavonoid biosynthetic pathway and that of other phenolic compounds (Schijlen et al.,
2004). Another example is the development of an apple genotype with
reduced content of secondary phenolic metabolites implicated in postcutting oxidation and discoloration, rendered highly suitable for processing into non-browning fresh-cut apple products (Khanizadeh et al.,
Enhancing the phytochemical content in fruits and vegetables may
not always be compatible with consumer perception of palatability,
particularly in species inherently rich in acrid-tasting phytochemicals.
For instance, several Brassicaceae species such as broccoli, cauliflower
and turnip are characterized by high concentrations of pungent and
bitter-tasting health-promoting compounds, such as bitter alkenyl and
indole glucosinolates. Moreover, their rich glucosinolate content is
combined with a low sugar content that accentuates the less desirable
organoleptic aspects of these products (Krumbein et al., 2010; Schonhof
et al., 2004). Therefore, raising the sugar content of broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous cultivars through breeding is desirable in
order to increase consumer acceptability for these commodities
Scientia Horticulturae xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
M.C. Kyriacou, Y. Rouphael
insight into the physiological and molecular responses linked to these
changes in order to unravel the mechanism(s) mediating induction of
phytochemicals biosynthesis as well as light signal transduction pathways.
Modification of spectral quality through coloured shade netting is
also considered an efficient and cost-effective approach to modifying
the crop microenvironment thus optimizing yield performance and
quality in fruit and vegetable crops (Basile et al., 2012; Basile et al.,
2014; Giaccone et al., 2012; Ilić and Fallik, 2017). In a recent review,
Ilić and Fallik (2017) reported that modifying the quality of solar radiation through the use coloured shade nettings during summer, as
opposed to commercial black nets, could be considered a sustainable
and meaningful approach towards enhancing phytochemical compounds in vegetables preharvest. For example, photoselective shade
nets of red and pearl colour have been shown to improve sensorial
quality and phytochemical content of several vegetables (Ilić et al.,
2011; Selahle et al., 2014; Tinyane et al., 2015).
Lastly, it is generally accepted by consumers that organically grown
fruits and vegetables are healthier and safer (Orsini et al., 2016). Based
on several meta-analyses and cases so far described, we may agree that
organic products tend to have higher vitamin C and minerals (P, Mg and
Fe) and lower nitrate values, compared to conventional ones (Dangour
et al., 2009; Smith-Spangler et al., 2012; Worthington, 2001). The
higher nutritional quality observed under organic farming is likely
caused by exposure to both biotic (weeds, plant pathogens and diseases)
and abiotic stress (low nutrient bioavailability). In response to both
biotic and abiotic stresses, organically cultivated plants will activate
physiological and molecular mechanisms in order to adapt to the suboptimal environment. Among these mechanisms, the biosynthesis and
accumulation of secondary metabolites (ascorbate, tocopherols, catotenoids and glucosinolates) able to ensure plant growth and development even under adverse conditions are included (Orsini et al., 2016).
Interestingly, these organic molecules are also important to human
health and therefore they indirectly contribute added value to basic
nutritional characteristics of fruits and vegetables (Erba et al., 2013;
Lairon, 2010). The influence of organic farming practices on the accumulation of phytochemicals will require additional scientific efforts
to elucidate the links between biotic/abiotic stress, oxidative stress and
phytochemical concentrations in fruits and vegetables.
vegetables. The potential for supplying these elements as well as others,
such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc, in different doses
and forms can become a valuable agronomic practice for achieving the
efficient increase of their concentration in the edible parts of vegetables, thereby improving nutritional quality and addressing nutrientspecific requirements or deficiencies in human diet (Tomasi et al.,
Environmental conditions (microclimate), particularly temperature
and light and to a lesser degree CO2, impact the phytochemical profile
of fresh horticultural products, as discussed in the review of Wang et al.
(2008). In the coming years, fruit and vegetable farmers will have to
deal with growing crops under suboptimal conditions (temperature
increase and carbon dioxide accumulation) dictated by global climate
changes (Moretti et al., 2010). Exposure to elevated temperature can
disturb morphological, physiological and metabolic processes of the
crops leading to a deterioration in nutritional and flavour quality
(Moretti et al., 2010; Neugart et al., 2012). High temperatures caused
by pronounced exposure to direct sunlight can alter important fruit
(apple and grape) quality attributes such as synthesis of sugars, organic
acids and antioxidant molecules (Moretti et al., 2010 and references
cited therein). Excessive solar radiation and temperature
( > 30–35 °C) have been also reported to inhibit lycopene biosynthesis
in tomato and to stimulate the oxidation of both lycopene and β-carotene (Dumas et al., 2003; Gautier et al., 2008). Besides the direct
impact of rising temperature on specific phytochemical components, an
indirect effect is the decoupling of concerted maturation processes,
which may drastically alter the organoleptic profile of fruits and vegetables, causing for instance disconcerted accumulation of sugars,
phenolic and volatile components in grapes (Palliotti et al., 2014;
Sadras and Moran, 2012). Such implications of climate change on
maturation and ripening physiology will demand complicated preharvest management practices, such as stage-specific controlled
grapevine defoliation or trimming to regulate the synchronicity of the
maturation procession (Caccavello et al., 2017). Similarly, prolonged
exposure to excessive carbon dioxide concentrations (550 μmol CO2/
mol) can result in undesirable effects, such as increase in potato tuber
malformation accompanied by significant reduction in proteins, potassium and calcium concentrations, leading to loss of sensory and
nutritional quality (Högy and Fangmeier, 2009). Climatic changes
conforming to the global warming projection might necessitate a shift
of agricultural production to higher altitudes with lower prevailing air
temperatures (Schreiner et al., 2013).
Several studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between
phytochemical biosynthesis and light intensity and spectral quality,
particularly for vegetables and microgreens produced in controlled
environments (Bian et al., 2015; Kyriacou et al., 2016). In vegetable
cultivation, light intensity should be based on the physiological requirements of the crop, since suitable light intensity able to enhance dry
matter accumulation varies among species and cultivars (Bian et al.,
2015). In the last two decades, the development of new LED technology
has provided tremendous advantages for modulating nutritional quality
of vegetables grown under controlled conditions. Most studies concerning light quality on secondary metabolites in plants have mainly
concentrated on red, blue, far red light as well as UV-light, because such
light may affect phytochemical biosynthesis and accumulation (Li and
Kubota, 2009; Ramalho et al., 2008; Tsormpatsidis et al., 2008). Taken
together, relevant scientific literature indicates that the responses of
vegetable crops to light quality, in terms of soluble proteins, sugars,
ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phenolic compounds and anthocyanins, are
species- and cultivar-dependent (Bian et al., 2015). In general, compared to other light qualities, red and blue light or a mixture of them
appears to be more effective in promoting the biosynthesis and accumulation of proteins, sugars, ascorbic acid and carotenoids, whereas
phenolic compounds have a strong capacity for UV absorption (Li and
Pan, 1994; Pan and Chen, 1991; Schreiner et al., 2012; Solovchenko
and Schmitz-Eiberger, 2003). Future research is warranted to provide
3. A postharvest perspective on quality
Our understanding of quality in fruits and vegetables and our ability
to quantify key physical, chemical and physiological parameters of
quality has progressed considerably as a result of advances in postharvest physiology and technology (Kader, 2002). Storage and shelf-life
extension are closely associated with the preservation of quality in fresh
horticultural products. Postharvest recommendations for harvesting,
packaging and handling produce along the supply chain aim at maximizing the period of acceptable quality. Additionally, we owe to the
field of postharvest physiology our understanding for the pivotal role
ethylene commands in the fruit ripening process and its effects on fruit
and vegetable physiology, quality and postharvest life (Saltveit, 1999).
The postharvest suppression of detrimental ethylene action by means of
scrubbing technologies and competitive inhibitors like 1-methylcyclopropene, have enhanced our capability for preserving quality, whereas
targeted application of ethylene has enabled the controlled catalysis of
postharvest ripening in various commodities (Blankenship and Dole,
2003; Watkins, 2006). Above all, we owe to postharvest physiologists
our insight on the concerted physiological processes that describe the
preharvest and postharvest biological continuum of maturation, ripening and senescence, and the determinant role of temperature on the
rate of these processes. Much has been accomplished in extending the
postharvest life of fruits and vegetables with the advent of technologies
effective in suppressing respiratory activity, such as dynamic controlled
atmosphere storage and modified atmosphere packaging.
Scientia Horticulturae xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
M.C. Kyriacou, Y. Rouphael
developmental stage considered optimal for harvest must account for
the nature of the supply chain, aiming at the best possible balance
between preharvest ripening and postharvest performance. Harvest
maturity indices must be crop- and cultivar-specific and rely on criteria
that are not site- or season-specific, that are well correlated with organoleptic quality and with the product’s developmental stages so that
they may also have a predictive value for maturity. Preferably, maturity
indices must be quantifiable, objective, easily applied in the field and
non-destructive. A thorough discussion of maturity indices across horticultural commodities is presented by Reid (2002). Diligent application
of maturity indices by producers is essential for ensuring good eating
quality and for promoting consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
It is important however to emphasize that postharvest practices and
technologies applied along the supply chain essentially manage the
products’ potential quality that is configured by genotypic and
agroenvironmental factors in the period preceding harvest. Postharvest
conditions and applications do not alter the inherent, potential quality
of the products but affect the rate at which ripening, senescence and
loss of quality occur (Crisosto and Mitchell, 2002; Weston and Barth,
1997). Postharvest technologies do not actively improve the quality of
fresh fruits and vegetables but may passively improve their quality
through the manipulation of the ripening process to facilitate optimal
expression of potential quality otherwise determined in the field up to
the time of harvest. In other words, the potential quality of fresh fruits
and vegetables that enter the horticultural supply chain is defined by
the period preceding harvest, but its expression can be optimized by
appropriate postharvest handling practices. This is particularly true of
climacteric commodities, postharvest interventions on which aim to
extend, suppress or inhibit the climacteric peak in respiratory activity
and ethylene production that usher onto full ripeness and subsequent
senescence. However, postharvest interventions can dismantle parallel
processes that underlie ripening and therefore render the use of solitary
indices misleading in deducing the state of ripeness and overall quality,
while they may also widen the disparity between appearance-based and
flavour-based shelf-life (Kader, 2008). In the case of non-climacteric
products, i.e. those not characterized by autocatalytic ethylene production and regulation of the ripening process, maximal quality is that
which is obtained at harvest. For this class of products, which includes
all vegetable products derived from non-reproductive organs and also
many arbour and annual fruits, physiological ripening terminates at
harvest and their quality deteriorates thereafter at a rate determined
primarily by the rates of respiration and transpiration.
For either physiological class of horticultural commodities, climacteric or non-climacteric, harvest maturity is a highly influential factor
for postharvest quality, moreover the way perishable commodities are
handled, transported and marketed is greatly influenced by their maturity at the time of harvest (Reid, 2002). Maturity is a term broadly
defined as that state at which natural growth and development is
considered complete, or sufficient. In the case of seeded fruits such is
usually the stage at which the seed dry matter has stabilized, whereas
for vegetables consisting of non-reproductive tissues the term mature is
more relative and linked to end use. Horticultural maturity on the other
hand provides a more consumer-oriented definition of maturity as that
stage at which a commodity assumes the required characteristics for its
intended use. For non-climacteric products (e.g. salad crops, root crops,
cherries, grapes, watermelons) harvest maturity must coincide with
horticultural or commercial maturity since no improvement in sensory
quality is anticipated postharvest; whereas climacteric products (e.g.
pomes, stone fruits, tomatoes, muskmelons) are in general harvested
before full commercial maturity and optimal eating quality are attained, in order to extend postharvest life and ensure physical characteristics (e.g. high firmness) that facilitate handling and transport. A
requisite for harvest maturity in climacteric products is that the products must have reached a developmental stage, or rather physiological
stage (coined physiological maturity), that ensures their ability to complete ripening after harvest. This is the stage where endogenous ethylene synthesis becomes responsive to positive feedback promotion (i.e.
autocatalytic) and highly sensitive to the presence of exogenous ethylene (Saltveit, 1999). For both climacteric and non-climacteric products, defining the optimal stage for harvest poses a critical management decision underscored by the paradox that flavour quality is
generally improved by harvesting riper products whereas postharvest
life benefits from harvesting less ripe products (Toivonen and
Beveridge, 2005). However, this paradox describes better the maturityflavour quality relation in fruits rather than vegetables, since the flavour quality in non-fruit vegetables is generally best when these are
harvested immature, while arbour fruits and annual fruits (vegetablefruits) taste best when fully ripe (Kader, 2008). In any case, the
4. A global perspective: quality, food loss and the need for
consumer education
Market demand for premium quality fresh fruits and vegetables that
increasingly characterizes modern consumer societies will undoubtedly
continue to exert a pressure on horticultural production and the supply
chain. The pressure for improving quality is exerted on both the preharvest and postharvest components of the chain, both of which generate an important ecological footprint as food systems account for
19–29% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (Vermeulen
et al., 2012). Heightened consumer demand for quality, particularly
consumer conditioning toward cosmetic perfection of fresh horticultural products supported by analogous high standards for visual
quality in the regulatory framework, are among the causes for increase
in waste along the horticultural supply chain in developed economies.
Unsurprisingly, food waste in developed economies widens down the
supply chain whereas in developing economies waste is highest at the
initial steps of the chain due to infrastructural shortcomings
(Gustavsson et al., 2011). Scientific studies analyzing the origins and
breakdown of food waste are scarce, indicatively however in a recent
study by Buzby and Hyman (2012) annual (reference year 2008) per
capita food loss in the United States was estimated at 124 kg valued at
$1.07/day, with fruit and vegetable waste accounting directly for 26%
of this loss.
While it is true that breeding and postharvest technology for extending yield and shelf-life of fresh products have generally run at the
expense of flavour quality (Tieman et al., 2017), it is important to indicate that this has been a trend dictated foremost by changes in consumer behaviour and demands (Jabs and Devine, 2006). Globalized
food trade has grown unprecedently over the last decades, resulting in
long supply chains of perishable commodities with intricate logistics
that exhaust the storage and shelf-life potential of fruits and vegetables
to the limits of flavour quality. As consumers in developed economies
have been conditioned to a bounty of fruits and vegetables from across
the globe and across seasons, emphasis on shelf-life characteristics has
been an inevitable necessity for furnishing this supply and demand
cycle. Moreover, the past decades have marked a break from the traditional house economy, with daily home cooking becoming less
common and convenience food a common place. Part of the changing
food culture is the rise in minimally processed food, which includes
prewashed and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables or salads ready for consumption or quick cooking. Coupled with the rising demand for horticultural commodities industrially processed into long shelf-life foods
(frozen, precooked, canned, freeze-dried etc.), these dramatic changes
in food culture and the food market will continue to exert pressing
demands for the supply of fruits and vegetables characterized by resilient textural characteristics and improved postharvest performance
mostly with respect to visual quality (Barrett et al., 2010). Formidable
challenges facing the horticultural industry are consequently the
breeding of genotypes that can sustain the logistics of long supply
chains while not being deprived of flavour, and the optimization of
quality using the modern agronomic toolbox under the specter of climate change.
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It is apparent from the preceding discussion that extrinsic factors are
extremely influential on consumers’ perception of quality. In an increasingly urbanized world, consumers are ever so distanced from the
horticultural production process, which renders them vulnerable to
idealized and mainly visual representations of quality promoted by the
marketing environment, but also to food scares concerning products
arriving on their tables through long supply chains. Schemes to underpin public health by promoting consumption of fresh fruits and
vegetables, like the five-a-day campaign, require closing the gap between extrinsic and intrinsic aspects of quality. Extrinsic aspects of
quality can be influenced through systemic education on the nutritive,
functional and organoleptic aspects of quality, as lack of appreciation
for alternative perspectives on quality may be the most limiting factor
for improving quality of fresh fruits and vegetables that reach the
consumer (Shewfelt, 1999). Extension education on the maturation and
ripening processes and accordingly on post-purchase handling of horticultural commodities is also important for increasing organoleptic
gratification and consumption. Reexamining the regulatory framework
on quality standards is critical for promoting compositional and flavour
aspects of quality to the interest of consumers but also for providing
incentives to producers for adopting quality oriented cultivar selection
and cultural practices. Enforcing legislation regarding the display of
standardized products and providing information on the origin, production method and even cultivar profile will promote consumer
awareness for product character and improve consumer-producer trust.
Supporting alternative short supply chains might also precipitate the
same effects.
5. Conclusion
Although postharvest technology remains vital for maintaining and
monitoring quality in the supply chain and for curbing food waste,
closing the gap between perceived and inherent quality will undoubtedly necessitate reinstating flavour quality in fruits and vegetables by managing intrinsic factors configuring quality in the preharvest stage. Such factors that warrant further research input include:
1) optimization of stage-specific production inputs for water and nutrients, 2) biofortification of products through targeted plant nutrition,
3) development of accurate crop- and cultivar-specific harvest maturity
indices, 4) advancement of non-destructive technology applications for
monitoring quality in the field, as well as postharvest, 5) optimized
application of controlled stress conditions that increase primary and
secondary metabolites and improve organoleptic and functional aspects
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