The results are in: The favorite blueberry varieties rated by 56 taste testers in the San Joaquin Valley for 2012 include Southmoon, Reveille, Biloxi, Legacy. Following the top four were Jewel, Sharpblue, Misty and Star. Most are Southern Highbush varieties, but some Northern Highbush were rated high also.

People have to remember that taste tests are subjective (everyone has their own preferences). Some prefer sweet, some more acid (tart). Other criteria that determine preferences include aroma (citrusy, floral), crunchiness, size, softness, stems attached, and appearance. There is no right or wrong answer. But we do see trends. Flavor is affected dramatically by variety. Of the 62 varieties planted at the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center in Parlier by Manuel Jimenez, farm advisor for Tulare County, 11 were available to sample at the May 23, 2012 Blueberry Field Day. Flavor is also affected by weather, soil factors, plant nutrition, and irrigation frequency. An exceptionally good tasting variety one year might be only mediocre the next. According to Richard Molinar, farm advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno County, “when we first started this project 14 years ago, some of the recommended varieties for the San Joaquin Valley included Reveille and Georgia Gem. Then came Star, Oneal, and Misty as good choices. Now Emerald, Jewel, and Springhigh are the new kids on the block, along with Snowchaser. It doesn’t mean they are the best tasting. They might be higher yielding, ripen at a certain time, are more disease resistant, or have better postharvest quality, etc.

Why so many varieties? Differences in when they ripen, flavor, yield, adaptation to a particular region or soil, shelf-life, adaptation to mechanical harvesting, and offering something new to buyers are all reasons for the different varieties. However, there are some consistencies. We might start picking May 15 with Snowchaser, and end with Centurion, a rabbiteye variety, in July. Molinar adds that his favorite variety has not changed for 10 years; It is still ‘Southmoon’. And is there agreement in the family? No, his wife prefers ‘Sharpblue’.

But do you ever see the variety names listed on the clam shells in the store? Molinar says “not usually. Oftentimes the varieties are mixed together at the packing facility; or the variety is just not named”. How many times do you go to the store and just see ‘white peaches, or seedless personal watermelons, or strawberries’. There are over 50 different white peaches grown in the valley. Buy locally from a roadside stand and chances are better you can find out the variety name.