Three onion (Allium cepa L.) cultivars were grown to maturity at five S fertility levels and analyzed for S-alk(en)yl-L-cysteine sulfoxide (ACSO) flavor precursors, γ-glutamyl peptide (γ-GP) intermediates, bulb S, pyruvic acid, and soluble solids content. ACSO concentration and composition changed with S fertility, and the response was cultivar dependent. At S treatments that induced S deficiency symptoms during active bulbing, (+)S-methyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide was the dominant flavor precursor, and the flavor pathway was a strong sink for available S. As S fertility increased to luxuriant levels, trans(+)-S-(1-propenyl)-L-cysteine sulfoxide (PRENCSO) became the dominant ACSO. (+)S-propyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide was found in low concentration relative to total ACSO at all S fertility treatments. With low S fertility, S rapidly was metabolized and low γ-GP concentrations were detected. As S fertility increased, γ-GP increased, especially γ-L-glutamyl-S-(1-propenyl)-L-cysteine sulfoxide, the penultimate compound leading to ACSO synthesis. Nearly 95% of the total bulb S could be accounted for in the measured S compounds at low S fertility. However, at the highest S treatment, only 40 % of the total bulb S could be attributed to the ACSO and γ-GP, indicating that other S compounds were significant S reservoirs in onions. Concentrations of enzymatically produced pyruvic acid (EPY) were most closely related to PRENCSO concentrations. Understanding the dynamics of flavor accumulation in onion and other vegetable Alliums will become increasing important as the food and phytomedicinal industries move toward greater product standardization and characterization.
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