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martes, 7 de abril 2020
07/04/2020
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UdeA researchers develop coating that increases the shelf life of fruits

By Yénifer Aristizábal Grajales
 

Redness and juiciness are perhaps the most attractive qualities of strawberries, but they last as little as the fruit itself. Strawberries can be preserved in perfect conditions for about three days, however, a team of UdeA researchers developed a plant-based edible coating that could increase the shelf life of strawberries by up to 10 days. 

The natural coating developed by UdeA researchers is intended to preserve the firmness, color and taste of strawberries. Photograph: Yénifer Aristizábal Grajales

Since 2011, researchers at the UdeA’s Food Biotechnology Research Group - BIOALI- have been conducting research on different edible coatings to increase the shelf life of a number of foods (arepas, cheese), and obtain higher nutritional values by incorporating naturally occurring compounds.

Currently, BIOALI’s research is focused on strawberries, a fruit that has a shelf life of three to four days. However, this could be increased up to 10 days thanks to this discovery, which would also favor commercialization, especially in rural areas with roads in poor condition, where the marketing cost may be higher due to transportation times and selling through intermediaries.

“In Colombia, most strawberry crops face the problem of lack of adequate access roads, which means that it can take up to two days for farmers to take the product to the marketers, so they have less time to market the product. And even when strawberries can be processed, consumers won’t buy them because of preservative agents”, says BIOALI researcher Oscar Vega-Castro.

Several edible coatings developed by BIOLAI researchers are made from cassava starch. The coating used in strawberries is mixed with rosemary oil extract, which has antimicrobial properties and prevents the fruit from being affected by Botrytis cinereal, a fungal pathogen that causes gray mold.

«We are working to develop an adequate concentration of this extract in order to inhibit the growth of the pathogen. Once we find it, it will be added to the coating formulation either through nanotechnology or using emulsions,” the researcher said.

But researchers also face the challenge of the need to preserve the firmness, color, taste and physical and chemical properties of strawberries, as well as their textural and antioxidant aspects. “This will benefit both the farmers and the marketers due to the increase in the shelf life. On the other hand, consumers will obtain an additive-free, fresh product,” said Vega-Castro.

BIOALI researchers have been investigating this groundbreaking compound for more than six months, but the research is expected to last another year.  Subsequently, the researchers will seek support from UdeA’s Technology Transfer Office in order to present the product to farmers. "The project, which is funded by UdeA Research and Development Committee - CODEI – is also useful for strawberry growers anywhere in the world since the fungus Botrytis cinereal commonly affects strawberry crops across the planet," the researcher said.

The team of researchers is currently studying the impact of this development on farmer communities while providing local farmers with training in good agricultural practices and strawberry cultivation. The training is being offered to farmers in the municipality of La Union, East of Antioquia, which is well known for its potato cultivations, although many farmers have chosen to grow products such as cape gooseberries and strawberries.

" I have 6500 plants in a quarter of a hectare. We harvest twice a week and I’m the only responsible for managing the crop,” says Pedro Ríos, a local strawberry grower.

Yésica Quintero, an agricultural engineer and director of the Unit for Agricultural Technical Assistance (UMATA, for its Spanish acronym) at La Union, says local economy is now largely marked by the commercialization of small fruits, including strawberries, and therefore, the production of fruits with a longer shelf life will result in a more sustainable supply chain.

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