The three year study will focus on “pre-domesticated varieties that have been changed little by breeding.
It follows research by consumer goods firm Unilever that found that the Egremont Russet variety of apple contains up to ten times more of one type of nutrient than some modern varieties.
Dr Mark Berry, based at Unilever’s research and development laboratories in Bedford who is leading the consortium, said: “The plants we eat today like fruits and vegetables have often been bred and selected on their weight-based yield per acre of land, and not necessarily on the nutrient content of the produce.
“This research looks to turn this approach on its head. Perhaps a better strategy for human health, not to mention sustainable agriculture, would be to buy plants not based on their weight, but on their nutrient content.”
The study is being carried out by a consortium including Unilever, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Cranfield University.