Maturity standards that determine when navel oranges can be harvested in California are currently based upon the ratio of soluble solids content (SSC) to titratable acidity (TA) and the rind color of the fruit. These standards may be inadequate to describe the quality of the fruit, which is important given the increased competition from other commodities in the marketplace and declining consumption of fresh citrus. To reevaluate the basis of the maturity standard, navel oranges were harvested at intervals throughout the season and evaluated for SSC, TA, juice ethanol concentration, percent juice, peel coloration, and sensory characteristics. Three varieties of navel oranges, representing early-, mid- and late-season maturities, were used. SSC: TA ratios averaged 6.3 at the beginning of the season and steadily increased to 23.4 at the end of the season. Changes in the hedonic rating, or likeability of the fruit taste as rated by the sensory panelists, were closely related to the SSC: TA ratio and ratings of sweetness and tartness. These relationships showed a similar pattern for all of the navel varieties. A hedonic rating of 6 (like slightly) was not reached until the SSC: TA ratio exceeded the current legal minimum of 8:1, suggesting that the standard should be raised. Juice ethanol levels and percent juice did not have any apparent influence on the sensory ratings. Fruit that were run over a packing line and waxed developed higher amounts of ethanol during storage than control fruit but did not differ substantially from them in hedonic rating.
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