It's a wrap: A new way to eat those fruits and vegetables

December 15, 2000

Click here for abstract.

HONOLULU, Dec. 16 - An edible film made from strawberry puree can add flavor to a banana and help keep it fresh as well, according to research presented here today during the 2000 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies. The report claims that film wraps made from broccoli, oranges, carrots, strawberries and other fruits and vegetables can be good - and tasty - oxygen barriers.

The weeklong scientific meeting, held once every five years, is hosted by the American Chemical Society, in conjunction with its counterparts in Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

Tara McHugh, Ph.D., a research food technologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Albany, Calif., described the technology for the first time, including specific findings, such as how an apple wrap can significantly extend the shelf life of fresh-cut apple slices.

"If you look at the film alone, it looks a lot like a sheet of paper - opaque and orange, if it's made from carrots, for example. Strawberry is red and broccoli is green," said McHugh. "But in contrast to other edible films, it's very flexible without having to add plasticizers like glycerol." She believes that's due to the naturally occurring sugars in the fruits and vegetables.

The idea is to make preformed sheets of the films into envelope-like wraps. Other produce, baked goods, confectioneries and perhaps even meat would be tucked inside. "These films are meant not to replace synthetic packaging, but maybe to simplify it," and they could help make the wrap recyclable, explained McHugh. "From a marketing standpoint, it would be a new and fun way to sell fruit and vegetable products while providing the added benefit of improving shelf life and quality."

The USDA is currently looking to sign cooperative agreements with industry to develop the technology further, said McHugh. Meanwhile, a patent has been filed and ideas keep coming in, she said. "You could even imagine wrapping a cut of meat in a peach film, for example. It could melt upon cooking and turn into a peach glaze."

McHugh's research shows her films tend to be as good as synthetic films at keeping out oxygen - a major culprit in the spoiling of foods. "The polymer chains are very tightly packed," she said.

Puree films work best in low humidity, she noted, because they are soluble in water - including saliva, a necessary feature to eating them easily.

McHugh has tested fresh-cut apple slices by dipping them in liquid apple puree and by wrapping them in a puree sheet. After 12 days, the dipped slices lost nearly as much moisture as those simply left exposed: 48 percent and 50 percent, respectively. In contrast, the wrapped slices lost only 30 percent of their moisture.

Since the sheets could be made from off-grade produce, they could become a new outlet for farmers, she added.
The paper on this research, AGRO 150, will be presented at 2:05 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Iolani Suite III/IV, 2nd floor, Tapa Conference Center, during the symposium, "Quality of Fresh and Processed Food."

Tara McHugh is a research food technologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Western Regional Research Center, Process Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit, in Albany, Calif.

American Chemical Society

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