A pepper at the Plateau AgResearch and Education Center
Considering the nutritional value of specific cultivars is a growing trend for home gardeners and grocery shoppers, says University of Tennessee plant physiologist Dean Kopsell. Photo courtesy UTIA.


Seed catalogs for the 2014 gardening season are speeding their way into gardeners’ hands, and with them come all the anticipation and promise of the growing season ahead.

As gardeners peruse plant company offerings, Dean Kopsell, a vegetable physiologist with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, has some tips to share. “First, you always want to make sure to pick the cultivars that are adapted to your region. This will give you the best plant health and yield. But after that, think of nutrition.”

Kopsell and his colleague Carl Sams, both professors in the UT Department of Plant Sciences, are evaluating the nutritional and flavor qualities of produce as well as crop production practices that can heighten them. They say providing information on the nutritional values of select varieties is an increasing trend.

“For instance, you may find varieties listed as high in lycopene, beta carotene and anthocyanin. This means they have been found to offer better nutrition than other plants in their class,” Kopsell said.

Pay attention to photos, too. “You really want to pick the plants that are the most vibrant looking or the most colorful. The reason why is that those are going to give you the most nutritious bang for the buck.” Vivid colors represent carotenoids and flavonoids in the plant’s metabolism, and that translates into enhanced nutrition for us.

The trend of enhanced nutrition is starting to be seen in some high-end grocery stores, too. Lacinato kale found in some groceries, for example, is superior in nutrition than conventional kale.

Kopsell foresees greater choices among produce in the next several years, first in grocery stores where buyers are willing to pay a 5- or 10-cent premium for better nutrition and then ultimately arriving in our neighborhood stores.

“As consumers become more knowledgeable, they’re going to start researching what are the best food choices. They’re going to be more conscious of, ‘Well, if I eat this, I’m going to get this value for my overall heath,’” Kopsell said. “I think it’s as we become more health conscious as a society, we’re going to understand that the choices that we make in our teens, 20s and 30s are going to pay dividends when we get to our 50s, our 60s and our 70s.”

Kopsell and Sams have one the few programs in the nation with the expertise and instrumentation necessary to integrate nutritional science, physiology, production and genetics.

Through their research into boosting the health values of vegetables, the researchers are working to make better choices possible for gardeners and grocers. It’s one example of how UT AgResearch, a division of the UT Institute of Agriculture, is delivering discoveries to benefit society.

In addition to its AgResearch programs, the UT Institute of Agriculture also provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.



Dean Kopsell, UT professor of vegetable physiology, dkopsell@tennessee.edu, 865-974-7324