Increasing Nitrogen Concentration in Hydroponic Solutions Affects Onion Flavor and Bulb Quality

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science
W.M. RandleDepartment of Horticulture, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-7273

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To test the effects of high nitrogen (N) fertilization levels on onion quality and bulb flavor, `Granex 33' onions (Allium cepa L.) were greenhouse grown in hydroponic solution culture with increasing N concentrations. Nitrogen was adjusted in the solutions with NH4NO3 and increased incrementally from 0.22 g·L-1 to 0.97 g·L-1 over five treatments. Plants were harvested at maturity and subjected to quality, flavor, and mineral analysis. As solution N increased, bulb fresh weight and bulb firmness decreased linearly. Gross flavor intensity, as measured by enzymatically developed pyruvic acid (EPY) increased linearly for N concentrations between 0.22 and 0.78 g·L-1, but EPY was reduced slightly in bulbs grown at the highest N level (0.97 g·L-1). Soluble solids content was unaffected by solution N concentration. Solution N had an affect on flavor quality. Methyl cysteine sulfoxide, which gives rise to cabbage (Brassica L. sp.) and fresh onion flavors upon eating, generally increased in concentration as solution N increased. 1-Propenyl cysteine sulfoxide, which imparts heat, mouth burn, pungency, and raw onion flavors increased between the two lowest N concentrations, and then decreased as solution N increased. Propyl cysteine sulfoxide, which imparts fresh onion and sulfur flavors upon eating, generally increased with increasing solution N concentration. Several minerals were also affected by solution N concentration. Total bulb N and NO3- increased linearly while B, Ca, and Mg decreased linearly. Total bulb S and K increased and then decreased quadratically in response to increasing solution N. Nitrogen fertility can have a pronounced affect on onion flavor and as a consequence, needs to be considered when growing onions for specific flavor quality and nutritional attributes.

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