Results from MU taste tests help growers pick out crop varieties.

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again. The time when growers start selecting seeds for next year’s planting season. With expanded catalogs and new varieties coming out each year, the task at hand for selecting the best crop might be tough for some.

One way that can help row crop producers or vegetable growers pick out varieties is to find out what people like. Events through Bradford Research Center have done just that with offering taste tests of sweet corn, melons, tomatoes and peppers.

“I get people asking me all the time which is the best tomato or pepper and I have my favorites, but these taste tests can really help show what the people are looking for,” said Tim Reinbott, superintendent of Bradford.

This year, Reinbott and his staff held tasting events at the center near Columbia, the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia and at the nearby South Farm Showcase, a family-oriented afternoon hosted by another Agricultural Research Center operated by the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) at the University of Missouri. Now in it’s 10th year, the annual Bradford Tomato Festival in September attracted more than 1,000 people thanks to more than 250 combined varieties of tomatoes, tomatillos (or ground cherries) and peppers grown at the center.

At each event samples of different varieties were labeled and available for tasting. After trying a sample, the taster would then rate it on a score of likeability starting at 1 and ending at 5 for a poor-tasting sample in the opinion of the patron. These scores are then averaged and compiled into lists for Bradford’s researchers to share with other growers. The results from the different tastings can be found on the center’s website at bradford.cafnr.org/results.

From this year’s Tomato Festival, some of the highly rated varieties included Sunkist, Green Zebra, Umberto, Sakura, Early Girl and Brandysweet Plum cherry tomatoes. Several of the tomatillos, or ground cherries, received mass appeal such as Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry, Yellow Husk, Cossack Pineapple, Goldie and Pineapple Tomatillo.

Crowd favorites for peppers included Pinot Noir and Lipstick sweet peppers, Black Olive and Sweet Heat ornamentals and Chichimeca jalapenos. More exotic pepper varieties included the NuMex Joe E. Parker Anaheim, Big Bomb Serrano, Bulgarian Carrot Chili, Maule’s Red Hot Cayenne, Chiltepin Tabasco, Bangkok Thai and Aji Dulce #2 Habanero. Many brave eaters danced with the extremely hot peppers such as the Moruga and Trindidad scorpions, Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper but still applauded their taste with high scores.

At the Missouri State Fair the Umberto and Pineapple Tomatillo again ranked as top picks, but Cherokee Purple, World’s Smallest Tomato and Super Sweet 100 cherry varieties, Clear Pink Early and Brandy Master Red also were favored by many.

For sweet corn tastings, the yellows and bicolors battled it out for the choicest corn variety. Top yellow varieties included Mini Mirai, Protector, Vision, Honey Select and Incredible. Top bi-colors included Mirai 315BC, Battalion, Utopia and Peaches and Cream. The oddly colored Sweet Ice made the highest grade as a white corn selection as the second-highest rated sample at the tasting in mid-August.

Many forget the Show-Me State grows a lot of melons. Some top varieties included specialties such as Brilliant, Sugar Cube and Serenade. Other popular picks were the Arava Galia, Ambrosia and Athena cantaloupes, Honey White Honey Dew and Faerie watermelon.

“I am always amazed at all the different varieties that are out there,” said Reinbott. “But it’s always good to know which ones people actually like. Hopefully our findings can help you grow something that everyone will love.”

For more information and upcoming events scheduled at Bradford Research Center, visit their website at bradford.cafnr.org.