Public and Allied Health Faculty Publications

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Resource-efficient food production practices are needed to support a sustainable food system. Aquaponics, a system where fish and produce are grown symbiotically in the same water circulating system, minimizes water usage, fertilizer input, and waste production. However, the impact of aquaponics on produce quality is underexplored. We utilize objective testing, descriptive analysis, and consumer acceptance to characterize the impact of aquaponics on tomato quality. Two tomato varieties were grown in an aquaponics system and compared with soil-grown controls across 3 years. Safety was assessed by analyzing coliforms and confirming the absence of Escherichia coli. Weight, texture, color, moisture, titratable acidity, brix, and phenolic and antioxidant measurements were assessed. A semitrained descriptive sensory panel assessed 13 tomato attributes and acceptance was determined using untrained participants. Aquaponic tomatoes were frequently lighter and yellower in color and lower in brix. Descriptive analysis indicated significant differences in several sensory attributes, though these findings were inconsistent between years and varieties. Nutrient deficiencies may explain quality differences, as iron supplementation improved outcomes. Notably, the objective and descriptive differences minimally impacted consumer acceptance, as we found no significant differences in taste, texture, or appearance liking between production method in either variety. Despite variation in produce quality across years, aquaponics tomatoes pose minimal E. coli risk and are liked as much as soil-grown tomatoes. These findings demonstrate that aquaponics can produce products that are as acceptable as their soil-grown counterparts.

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Journal of Food Science








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