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

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science
Author:
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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