23 Feb 2023



New white strawberries developed by the University of Florida with a distinct light color become a national sensation.

In 2020, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) unveiled a new strawberry with a distinct white color that ripens to pale pink. The cross berry is the work of Vance Whitaker, professor of horticultural science and strawberry breeder. Last year, the berry reached U.S. and European markets in a big way, attracting huge attention on social media with posts generating more than 50 million views.

How do you turn a red berry white? At the UF/IFAS research station in Balm, southeastern Hillsborough County, Whitaker took white strawberry seeds from Japan and crossed them with a Florida berry; the seedlings produced fruit ranging from white to pink to red. The pale berries are ripe when a light pink color develops on the sunlit side and the seeds turn red.

Vance Whitaker, professor of horticultural science at the University of Florida
Vance Whitaker, professor of horticultural science at the University of Florida.

UF/IFAS researchers and the Florida Strawberry Growers Association estimate that strawberries generate about $300 million annually. Wish Farms is the first national distributor of what the grower has branded as Pink-A-Boo Pineberries. Wish Farms grows the berries in Plant City and California. According to UF, the berries retain the same nutrients as other strawberries.

White strawberries are carefully grown indoors in Japan, where a single berry is a luxury purchase and can cost up to $10. White berries are naturally born with lower levels of pigments called anthocyanins. The new berries give off a slight pineapple aroma, which has led them to be called "pineberries." In 2021, a U.S. patent was issued for this berry, which UF officially named Florida Pearl.

White strawberries of the Florida Pearl variety.
White strawberries of the Florida Pearl variety.

Inventions of new plant varieties developed at UF are assigned to the Florida Foundation Seed Producers, a nonprofit corporation and direct-support organization that focuses on technology transfer of new plant varieties. The organization sought an exclusive licensee in 2022. The license was subsequently assigned to the Florida Strawberry Patent Service, a sister organization of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

The FSPS has sublicensed numerous nurseries for plant propagation and numerous growers for fruit production. All growers in the state (large and small, conventional and organic) have access to Florida Pearl plants to grow the fruit. The university reinvests royalties from plant development into its research programs; Whitaker also maintains a share of royalties on the berry. This year, UF's pineberries are grown on about 300 acres in Florida (twice as many as last year) and about 100 acres in California.

Source: Florida Trend

Photo: Florida Trend

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