Genetic improvement and varietal selection in rocket salad: research perspectives and market trends

Pasquale Tripodi, Teodoro Cardi [Consiglio per la ricerca in agricoltura e l'analisi dell'economia agraria - Centro di ricerca Orticoltura e Florovivaismo (CREA-OF)]

Rocket salad is a leafy vegetable crop member of the Brassicaceae, a large family including about 350 genera and more than 4000 nutritionally and economically relevant species which provide a high contribution of bioactive compounds and fibers.
The name refers to a set of species whose leaves have a typical strong taste and pungent aroma due to the presence of nitrogen- and sulfur-rich compounds known as glucosinolates. This crop, which has been originated in the Mediterranean area and used since the ancient times is very popular and particularly appreciated as food condiment and in ready-to-use mixed salad packages due to consumer demand for a convenient, nutritious and easily accessible product. Several other uses are recognized in cosmetics and medicine.
Italy, is one of the most important producer in Europe after England. The most commonly cultivated and commercialized species are Diplotaxis tenuifolia (known as perennial or wild rocket) and Eruca sativa (known as annual or cultivated rocket). Both crops include several populations that can be used as potential source of genetic variability for genetic improvement of agronomic and quality-related traits, and disease resistances of cultivar. Despite the continuous increase of the global consumption during the
recent years, few efforts have been carried out by private companies for the release of new varieties. A major constraint is represented by the absence of a seed certification system as well of a national register of varieties. Moreover, biological and reproductive barriers limited the research in breeding programs carried out by Universities and Research institutes.
Nowadays, this lack is particularly felt due to the increasingly needs of the supply chain, in terms of contractual relations and consumer demands that impose innovative products in terms of food quality and safety. The intensive agricultural system, the nitrate accumulation limits (established by EC), early flowering, biotic stresses and physiological alterations occurring during cultivation are among the major problems which significantly affect the quality and the quantity of production. These issues need to be addressed in the next years to maintain national and international competitiveness. The aim of this review is to primarily describe the economic importance and the impact of rocket salad on the consumers, as well recent researches on nutritional properties and on determinants of organoleptic quality. Afterwards, the potential genetic resources for the genetic improvement of rocket and the efforts made so far in this field are reported. Finally, prospects for the consumers and market trends are discussed.

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