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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Albany, California » Western Regional Research Center » Healthy Processed Foods Research » Research » Research Project #439532

Research Project: New Sustainable Processes, Preservation Technologies, and Product Concepts for Specialty Crops and Their Co-Products

Location: Healthy Processed Foods Research

Project Number: 2030-41000-069-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Dec 7, 2020
End Date: Dec 6, 2025

The overall long-term objective of this project is to develop commercially-viable new sustainable processes, preservation technologies, and product concepts for specialty crops (fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes) and co-products of these crops. Specifically, during the next five years we will focus on the following objectives: Objective 1: Enable economical, input-efficient, and sustainable methods for processing and preservation of specialty crops while improving product quality and value. Subobjective 1A: Develop solar thermal alternatives for heat-intensive specialty crop processing unit operations. Subobjective 1B: Develop preservation strategies for reducing or eliminating the use of sulfites in dried fruit crops. Subobjective 1C: Develop more energy-efficient alternatives to conventional drying and freezing unit operations. Objective 2: Increase the commercial value of specialty crop co-products and difficult-to-market (No. 2 grade, for example) fruits/vegetables by processing into functional food ingredients. Objective 3: Enable value-added processing strategies for novel/emerging specialty crops, including protein sources from plants. Subobjective 3A: Develop new, protein-balanced ready-to-eat (RTE) pasta and snack foods with relevant functional attributes and acceptability made from legumes and specialty crops, through environmentally-friendly processing technologies. Subobjective 3B: Design innovative, delicious functional beverages and high-moisture foods from sustainable plant-based protein ingredients, using state-of-the art, minimally-thermal processing technologies to render products that have unique nutritional attributes and health benefits. Subobjective 3C: Leverage the unique advantages of 3D multilayer lithography and 3D cryo-lithography technology to form optimally-textured meat analogs from plant-based protein ingredients.

1A: Utilize solar thermal energy in evaporative concentration, blanching, and bin drying, with the goal of deriving up to 100% of the required heat from sunlight. For each system, the processing conditions will be established, an exergetic analysis performed, and the process designed and tested at pilot scale. Product quality will be measured and optimized alongside processing conditions. 1B: Reduce the sulfite content of dried fruits by 50% to 100% while maintaining organoleptic quality and nutrition equivalent to sulfited controls. For each fruit, various preservative ingredients and blanching pretreatments will be screened for individual and synergistic benefits on product quality metrics. Synergistic combinations will be applied to fruits that will be dried using various protocols. Optimal combinations of preservatives, blanching treatments, and drying protocols will be determined. 1C: Utilize infrared drying, isochoric freezing, and other promising technologies to obtain high-quality fruit and vegetable products and assess the energy efficiency of these technologies, with the rationale that these technologies will shorten processing time and operate at milder temperatures than conventional controls. 2A: Determine optimal operating conditions for processing raw co-products and low-grade products into shelf-stable ingredients, balancing throughput and product quality. Raw materials will be processed with pilot-scale unit operations such as drying, blanching, pasteurization, vacuum forming, casting, and freezing. 2B: Incorporate powdered specialty crop co-products with known antioxidant and antimicrobial activities into edible films and coatings applied to perishable foods via casting, dipping, and electrostatic spraying. Cast films will be characterized by scanning electronic microscopy, water vapor and oxygen permeability, mechanical properties, and various other quality metrics. 3A: Process legume pulses’ and specialty crops’ fractions (peels and hulls) into ready-to-eat, protein-balanced expanded extruded snacks and functional pasta. A co-rotating twin-screw extruder system will be used to process novel-formulated mixed flours into the new products. Processing variables will be studied to optimize product quality and mechanical/thermal energy input. 3B: Transform legume pulse protein concentrates, isolates, and specialty crops into novel healthy beverages and meat analogs. For beverages, legume pulse proteins and other fiber- and phytonutrient-rich specialty crop ingredients will be blended into nutritionally-balanced mixtures, solubilized, and processed by a high-pressure homogenizer. Meat analogs will be developed using high moisture protein fibration extrusion. 3C: Transform plant proteins into meat analogs with desirable functional and sensory properties using 3D multilayer lithography and 3D cryo-lithography. Various formulations of pulse- and legume-based proteins and other specialty crop-based additives will be tested. Processing parameters will include syringe temperature, extrusion speed, and nozzle temperature/diameter. Chemical, physical, rheological, and sensory properties of the 3D-printed products will be optimized.