Tomorrow's Snacks May Be 100% FruitBy Kathryn Barry Stelljes
November 12 , 1996
ALBANY, Calif., Nov. 12--Eating enough fruit and satisfying your sweet tooth may be easier than ever, thanks to new foods with up to 100 percent fruit.
"Tomorrow's fruity treats could offer consumers a healthy alternative to sugary candies and confections while making it easier to eat more fruit," said Tara McHugh. She's a research food technologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.
McHugh said the key lies in unique combinations of fruit puree, starch and gelatin and a new application of current food processing techniques.
"Using our techniques, food processors can make ingredients for snacks, salads, frozen products and baked goods with a minimum amount of sugar," said McHugh. She's the principal scientist who designed the products at the agency's Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.
Consumers would benefit from a greater variety of healthy foods on grocery store shelves. "Right now we're using apricots and peaches, but the technology should work with many other fruits and vegetables," she said.
McHugh said growers and processors will also benefit. "Produce processing operations are frequently in rural towns and depend on seasonal employment," she said. "With our methods, produce can be harvested and pureed, then processed year-round. The extended processing periods and expanded market for fruits and vegetables could aid the economic development in these communities."
McHugh's research allows food-processors to shape fruit puree into a wide variety of forms and textures by two different methods. In the first method, the puree is poured into starch molds and allowed to set for up to three days.
"Theoretically, molded pieces can be created in virtually any shape," McHugh said. "So far, we can use up to 30 percent fruit with this method."
The scientists are working on packing more fruit into the product, but McHugh said a lot of moisture is needed with this technique so the mixture will pour smoothly into the molds.
The second method, known as extrusion, eliminates the need for excessive moisture. The extruder mixes ingredients with two rotating spiral augers, or screws, and then pushes the mixture through a die, making a long rope of fruit product. The rope can then be cut into stars, circles, squares or other shapes based on the die used.
"Because the extruder eliminates the need to pour the mixture, more fruit and less water can be used," McHugh said. "We can make extruded ropes containing 100 percent fruit."
She noted both techniques are common in the food processing industry to make cereals and protein foods, but making fruit products with the twin-screw extruder is new. McHugh is working with interested companies to develop the process commercially.
A related story appears in the November issue of ARS' monthly magazine, Agricultural Research. [Click here to view the story in downloadable PDF format.]
Scientific contact: Tara McHugh, USDA-ARS Process Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, 800 Buchanan St., Albany, California 94710; phone (510) 559-5864, firstname.lastname@example.org.