Batches of a nutritious, shelf-stable sweet potato puree to be used as a food ingredient are being rolled out today at a new sweet potato processing facility owned by Yamco LLC in Snow Hill, NC. The premium food ingredient is now commercially available to manufacturers for use in a variety of finished products such as baked goods, soups, baby foods, beverages and nutraceuticals.
This new, high-quality food ingredient is made possible by a unique, rapid-microwave-heating process. The process was developed, tested and jointly patented by collaborators with North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Industrial Microwave Systems, L.L.C. (IMS), Morrisville, NC.
Food scientist Van-Den Truong, with the Raleigh-based ARS Food Science Research Unit, and his collaborators tested the product extensively at an NC State pilot plant. The collaborators include NC State food engineers Josip Simunovic, Kenneth Swartzel, K. P. Sandeep and Gary Cartwright and graduate student Pablo Coronel. Their testing ensured that the puree exhibits ideal nutrient and color retention with little flavor loss under sterile processing conditions. The result is a value-added food ingredient that is shelf-stable at room temperature.
The patented process was licensed in 2007 to Yamco LLC for exclusive commercial production of sweet potato puree.
For farmers, the new process provides a new market for less-than-perfect sizes or shapes of sweet potatoes that might ordinarily be discarded. That's because all sweet potato sizes and shapes can be used to make the new, shelf-stable puree. North Carolina farmers produce more sweet potatoes than growers in any other state, accounting for 43 percent of the annual $290 million U.S. sweet potato crop in 2006.
Sweet potatoes are often called a "nutritional powerhouse" because they are very high in beta carotene. They also contain phenolic compounds, vitamin C, vitamin B6, dietary fiber and potassium, among other nutrients.
ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.