June 15, 2001 GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- It's a UFO, but it's not unidentified.
A new peach variety from University of Florida fruit breeders looks like someone took a standard peach and flattened it. But don't let its odd, saucer-like appearance fool you -- the peach has a firm texture and the sweetest taste this side of the Georgia state line.
The UFO peach was created by adding a gene that creates extra-firm flesh to an existing saucer-shaped peach that has been popular in Asia for hundreds of years, said Wayne Sherman, a professor with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"This peach was a favorite of Chinese emperors because they could turn it around in their hand and eat it without dripping juice in their beards," Sherman said. "The variety that we modified came from Australia, where it was known as the Australian Saucer peach.
"We named it after a flying saucer -- a UFO," he said. "The UF prefix goes on all of our new firm-textured varieties of peaches and nectarines." Sherman said fruits with extra-firm flesh can be allowed to ripen on the tree. That means the fruit will have greater sugar content and will be sweeter than fruits that are picked early and ripen on store shelves, he said.
The odd-shaped peaches have been popular with home gardeners but were not available commercially because they could not stand up to packing and shipping. "Because these peaches are not round, a mechanical packing line will damage them if they are soft," Sherman said. "After I tried to pack some I discovered I'd done it all wrong and had to go back and put the extra-firm texture gene in them." The gene Sherman incorporated in the saucer-shaped peach is not new or novel.
"This gene has been used in many other fruits, such as sweet cherries, blueberries and new varieties of cantaloupes, and even in firm tomatoes, which consumers think of as vegetables but actually are fruits," Sherman said. With the addition of the firm-flesh trait and a bright red color, Sherman said, the saucer-shaped UFO peach could see use as a high-priced novelty fruit in grocery stores.
The UFO peach is adapted to the subtropical growing conditions in Central Florida, from the Tampa area to north of Gainesville. Growers can get trees from nurserymen who are licensed by the university to grow the new variety. Homeowners interested in adding the fruit to their yards should find plenty in their local garden centers this winter, Sherman said.
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