Dessert with this fleshy fruit is healthier than expected, researchers are finding. And new varieties yielding even greater levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants and other phytochemicals will be typical for new varieties in coming years, a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station horticulturist believes.
"The trend is to develop varieties that have more health benefits, because the public is becoming more health conscious and making decisions based on that," said Dr. David Byrne, Experiment Station researcher who has been breeding peaches for about 20 years. "Twenty years ago, the (breeding) emphasis was on big and pretty. That's still important, but now we are looking at quality and trying to develop peaches with better health benefits."
Peaches already rank high in some types of phytochemicals. Preliminary results from a test conducted by Byrne and Dr. Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, Experiment Station food technologist, showed that peaches have good to excellent antioxidant activity, some antimicrobial activity, potential for use as a natural food colorant, and good to excellent tumor growth inhibition activity.
"We're developing the groundwork to show that peaches really do have the health benefits," Byrne said. "The first step is to understand what the phytochemicals do, to make sure they are doing something useful so that we can increase the levels effectively.
"There is a lot of active work in this area to increase the health benefits and the flavor as well as to extend the range of adaptation," Byrne said.
Peach research can only pay off for growers and consumers alike. People in the United States eat almost 10 pounds apiece each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Economic Research Service, more than half of that being fresh fruit such as that grown in Texas.