Herbs: Eliciting the phytochemical basis of flavour to recommend agronomic practice for improved and consistent characteristics


FV/PE 455 - Herbs: Eliciting the phytochemical basis of flavour to recommend agronomic practice for improved and consistent characteristics

Start Date: 
Completion Date: 
Project Leader: 
Carol Wagstaff, University of Reading
FV/PE 455
Industry representative: Philip Dodd, Sandhutton Growers Ltd. 
AHDB Horticulture Cost: £77,563
Summary:  Herb flavour is highly variable in composition and intensity according to differences in cultivar, agronomic practice, climate and growing season. This is at odds with end-consumer expectation of a consistently flavoured product. This project will identify the extent of flavour variation in three commercially important herbs (basil, coriander and a perennial herb) so that growers can tailor their cultivation practices to optimise herb flavour in their growing system, whether this is in a protected or an open field environment; thus this proposal is relevant to both outdoor and protected crops.
Current methods of addressing the problem do not exist within the industry. Tasting is on an ad hoc basis and not set against quantitative standards. It is not done in a way that results can be compared between seasons, sites or production methods at present.
New activity is planned to enable growers to evaluate their own crop more accurately and to understand the influences that season and production system have on flavour profile. It is NOT the intention of the project to rank different types of production system against each other, nor is it desirable to generate a flavour ‘standard’ against which all crops of that herb type are judged as we recognise the potential harm that this may do the industry collectively. The aim of the project is to enable growers and breeders to understand the influences of environment on herb flavour and how adjustments in agronomic practice can further shift those changes towards a flavour that is desirable and liked by consumers.
Aim: To elucidate the chemical profile of commercially important culinary herb crops and understand how varietal choice, season, agronomic practice, cultivation system and environment interact with this

1. Profile chemistry of three core herbs: coriander, basil, and a perennial herb species

2. Examine the impact of different seasons on flavour profile over three sequential years

3. Examine the impact of production system on flavour profile

4. Examine the impact of inputs on flavour profile

5. Associate flavour profiles with consumer liking

Benefits to Industry: This project will enable UK herb growers to achieve enhanced and consistent flavour throughout the UK growing season, giving them a unique selling point compared to imported herbs to the UK growers to promote their products. This would secure UK grown products within the retail environment in this highly competitive sector that operates with low margins. Consistency and optimization of flavour profile will increase consumer satisfaction with the products they purchase, leading to increased repeat buying; this represents improved market penetration and market shares of UK grown product will increase, thus specifically benefitting UK industry, and enabling retailers to promote the availability of UK grown produce. There are a paucity of data describing the current market position of herb sales in the UK market. The UK is presently the third biggest importer of herbs and spices across Europe (Eurostat, 2008) with an average annual growth in imports of 5% per annum from 2005-2007, making it one of the fastest growing markets in Europe (Eurostat, 2008). In 2007, these imports were worth €113million, although it is not possible to separate individual herbs from these data. Clearly, replacement of even a part of this import market with UK grown produce would benefit UK productivity. The economic benefit derived from this project is in business protection and security as customers increasingly demand detailed knowledge of the flavour aspects of herb products. There is a commercial need to demonstrate to customers that growers understand the effects that their growing practices have on flavour in the herbs and in so doing prove consistency and improvement. Growers are also increasingly looking to extend seasonal production in order to substitute UK grown crop for air freighted imports, however, this cannot be at the expense of flavour in a herb crop. At present the lack of ability of the UK industry to demonstrate understanding of flavour is a limiting factor in developing the market and a threat to its continued market expansion.

The project will enable the industry to reduce waste emanating from unsold or discarded herbs and will support agronomic practice that optimises inputs for flavour quality. The project will enable the herb industry to promote UK grown products by decreasing imports during the UK season reducing footprint and potentially waste.

At present, herbs are frequently wasted at the retail and consumer points in the supply chain, at the former because they fail to meet quality standards of appearance or longevity due to slow sales, and at the latter because the flavour profile or intensity does not meet consumer expectations. The project will enable UK herb growers to produce product with a consistent and desirable flavour profile; thus increasing sales and ensuring that more of the product grown is sold.