If the strawberries in the produce section seem to look a little fresher and have a fruitier fragrance, it may not be your imagination. USDA plant physiologist Steven F. Vaughn pondered the problem of how grocery stores could offer consumers fresher, riper berries, rather than those that have been picked early to prolong shelf life. His solution was straightforward: "We thought we'd try surrounding them with a little extra amount of a natural antifungal compound they make themselves," he explains. Along with chemist Gayland Spencer, Vaughn tested 15 of these volatile compounds that make up the aroma of strawberries and raspberries by sealing them with the fruits, which had been inoculated with three fungi, in jars. At 50? F, five of the compounds inhibited fungal growth for at least a week. One compound with a fruity aroma, 2-nonanone, looks as if it would have the most commercial use because it doesn't break down into other compounds as readily and it would cost less than a penny to treat a quart of berries. Although the lab test involved a sealed jar, partially ventilated packaging would provide a better environment for the fruits--the air would prevent them from developing off-flavors and the compound would prevent premature decay.
Photography by National Gardening Association.