The Goldfinger mutagenesis project started as a pursuit to find a marketable banana variety resistant to Panama TR4. However, it may also prove a commercial winner by filling a market void and increasing category demand.
In a 2011 report, ‘New and alternative banana varieties designed to increase market growth’, principal horticulturist with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Jeff Daniells, detailed how there were market opportunities for more banana varieties, to increase demand.
He said in recent consumer and sensory evaluation many consumers indicated that they liked the sweet and sour balance of the Goldfinger selections. The consumers scored the four Goldfinger variants 144, 521, 544 and 903, ‘on par’ with commercial Lady Finger and Cavendish.
Mr Daniells said the consumer testing results were extremely encouraging given the progress that had to be made in improving the eating characteristics of Goldfinger in the trial, whilst retaining its TR4 resistance.
The sensory panel assessment indicated that the selections were firmer in texture than the original Goldfinger. This was an important component of the improved overall liking of the selections compared to the original Goldfinger.
“It was surprising, but very encouraging just how much better the new selections were to eat compared to the original Goldfinger.
“And that’s also a very encouraging thing for the future, because often hybrid varieties like Goldfinger, when they were originally bred, it was considered that the hybrid couldn’t be improved further. In DAF’s Goldfinger mutagenesis research it has been demonstrated otherwise. Improvement is still possible!”
The program is now ready to embark on the next stage of the work, growing the Goldfinger selections in a small number of on-farm trials. But commercialisation itself is still at least a few years away.
“It’s not a quick process because there’s no immediate market for the fruit. We can’t just put 1000 plants out and expect someone to support a commercial agreement, without knowing that we can sell any of the fruit,” Mr Daniells said.
“It will take at least a couple of years to grow on growers’ properties to see how they are performing and get some more information to optimise their post-harvest handling characteristics.
“We haven’t had a quantity of fruit sufficient enough to do this at previous stages of the trials.
“Then the expectation is that a marketing company would be sought to take on the opportunity of moving the varieties forward on a commercial level. So, I would hope in a few years from now we’ll be able to get this release process going if there is enough support for it from the growers and marketers to invest in the opportunity.”
In early 2022, around 120 consumers took part in a series of tastings to assess the five new varieties of Goldfinger bananas from the South Johnstone trial, with four of the varieties scoring equally well with existing commercial varieties of Cavendish and Lady Finger.
DAF Consumer & Sensory Scientist Simoné Moller said more than 1000 bananas were tasted during the trial at DAF’s specialised sensory facility in Coopers Plains.
“Overall, the reviews were positive but well summed up by one taster who described the new Goldfinger selections as a ‘super healthy and delicious snack’ that they would look forward to eating,” Ms Moller said.
“Tasters liked the balance of sweet and sour taste in the new Goldfinger selections with one noting that the fruit had a ‘complex flavour with notes of citrus, confectionery, and tropical fruit’.
“Other comments from the tasters included that these Goldfinger selections had just the right amount of sweetness, the texture and flesh colour of the banana was very exciting, and that they would be fantastic in a fruit salad.
“My favourite comment came from a taster who said they were reminded of banana lollies and thought they could be marketed as ‘sweet confectionery without the naughty numbers’.”