nutritional values and taste of vegetables grown with led light

A number of researchers have conducted in-depth studies that demonstrate the benefits of proper dosage of LED light in specific wavelengths.

For example, a study conducted by Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture  studied several tomato varieties and various intensities of light. They found that certain varieties of tomatoes that receive extra light from LED grow lights contained up to twice as much vitamin C as the tomatoes not exposed to the LEDs.

Another study, published by Japanese researchers in 2012, demonstrated an increase in a particular antioxidant in mandarin oranges when plants were exposed to red (660nm) light.

In yet another study, scientists found that a pre-harvest LED light treatment was found to remarkably enhance antioxidant and nutritional properties of particular green vegetables due to the increased activity of the metabolic system for the protection from a mild photooxidative stress. Application of supplemental LED lighting to dill and parsley, for example, resulted in the accumulation of vitamin C and carbohydrates and in the enhancement of free radical binding activity and the activity of nitrate-reducing enzyme, according to this study from Vilnius University in Lithuania.

In a study from the University of Florida published in 2013,  Thomas Colquhoun demonstrated that fruit volatile profiles of tomato, strawberry, and blueberry can be manipulated with specific light treatments. (Volatiles are the chemicals emitted by a piece fruit that allow you to smell and taste it. These compounds are really important in providing flavor to fruit and vegetables.)

The Florida researchers also found that post-harvest food stored under LED lights improves in appearance and flavor.

More work on the potential of LEDs to improve flavor and nutrition is ongoing, with a number studies in progress. But the evidence, even now, is strong enough to have convinced numerous growing operations around the world to switch to LED lights in their operations.

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  1. While they’re eye-catching, Dean Kopsell, a professor with U.T.’s Plant Sciences Department, said LED lighting can also be healthy.

    “We found out that they can really dramatically increase plant physiology, increase mineral nutrient levels, and also increase antioxidant levels, which are very important for us in the diet,” said Kopsell.

    Kopsell said plants only need a small percentage of sunlight rays, but under LED lighting, researchers can intensify the light plants do need, saving them energy. He said while LED lights come in all colors, blue and red are the most important to plant growth.

    UT uses LED panels
    Blue and red LED panel (Photo: WBIR)

    “We’re looking at the important impacts of red and blue but more importantly we’re adjusting the ratios of red and blue,” said Kopsell. “So on a normal day, we’re taking the percent blue that would normally be in sunlight, and we’re increasing that by three or four fold, and we’re really improving the nutritional and mineral and antioxidant levels in the crops. ”

    Kopsell and Dr. Carl Sams studied the impacts on herbs and specialty vegetables, like kale. He said the already healthy crop produced even higher levels of nutrients, like calcium, potassium, iron, and even anti-cancer components.

    The LED lights also emit less heat, especially compared to high pressure sodium lamps found in greenhouses, which are usually 1,000 watts each.

    “You can see they’ve got a yellow tint, because they have yellow light in them. They’re hot and can wilt the tops of the plants closest to the light,” said Kopsell. “But you don’t have that detrimental heat impact under blue and red LEDs.”

    Kopsell said the research could have a future impact on metropolitan areas, giving growers an indoor option.

    “Right now, this idea of using urban farming, or vertical farming, going into urban areas and trying to create plant production systems in warehouses and buildings is really important and really starting to pickup in a lot of the major metropolitan cities,” said Kopsell. “But it’s going to be really hard to use high pressure sodium light in those areas just because of the heat buildup. ”

    Kopsell said LED lighting could be supplement to greenhouse growing.

    “Most of the people I’ve been talking to across the country, they want to be able to grow plants inside,” said Kopsell. “We’re going to be able to grow crops in urban areas or in arid land areas where we wouldn’t be able to grow them outside due to soil conditions or temperature conditions. ”

    Kopsell said LED technology is still expensive. The panels U.T. is using cost $700 each, but were engineered for the research.