The myth of shiny fruit: natural food trends for FoodTech

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You might have seen online videos claiming that apples or other fruits have dangerous substances covering them. Nothing further from reality, the main role of that substance, or coating, is to protect the fruit and maintain its freshness for longer.

The importance of edible fruit coatings

Edible coatings can provide an additional protective layer to fresh products; this can have a similar effect as modifying the product’s surrounding atmosphere and internal gas composition, which allows preserving fruits for a more extended period of time.

Learning to love natural products

Many fruits produce their own protective wax naturally. However, after picking and cleaning, this coating is lost. Therefore, adding a coating to its surface for the fruit to last longer is necessary. The coating’s principal role is to preserve the fruit’s qualities, avoiding moisture loss and protecting its surface from microbes.

New trends, and the fight to reduce hunger and food waste, have put a new paradigm  in place, the one where the so-called “ugly fruits” and natural appearances are no longer rejected, but promoted and demanded by consumers.

Applying natural coatings alternatives will preserve the natural appearance of fruits, which, in some cases, are not shiny at all. The final product will have a protecting layer, but not a glossy finish.

Natural and artificial coatings can contain fungicides to inhibit mold growth while at the same time controlling fruit respiration to delay the ripening process, protecting it from bruising during transportation. Artificial fruit coatings -such as petroleum-derived- are designed to merge food preservation and presentation; they can look nicer, but in some countries are forbidden, and they won’t get organic certification.

Are coatings safe?

Coatings are meticulously formulated and tested. They have to meet the local food authority requirements, be it the US Food and Drug Administration, or the European Legislation on food additives, or more generally, the FAO Codex Alimentarius on International Food Standards. The last one is a collection of codes, guidelines, and practice that ensures that food is safe and can be traded; the 188 global members agree in the Codex’s content. 

Not every country or region in the world allows the use of the same coatings or food additives. Among the most restrictive commercial zones is the European Union, which allows only for the use of naturally made fruit coatings.

Concerns have been raised regarding the sealing of pesticides that can occur by applying a coating. However, it has been shown that the prior fruit washing removes the majority of pesticides. And as far as the coating goes, it has no health issues since the body does not absorb it, and it passes right through the digestive system.

The regulatory bodies are in charge of ensuring that fruit is safe to eat, so they regularly check for things like pesticide and herbicide levels. Coatings need to be safe. They also have to meet consumers’ demand, who want to buy fruit that looks and tastes good and is not covered in strange looking substances.

Coatings in time

Wax was the first edible coating used to preserve fruits. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Chinese used to apply wax to preserve lemons and oranges. Later, in the 1930s, melted paraffin waxes were used as edible coatings in pears and apples. Paraffin and wax both were able to slow down the respiratory gas exchange, allowing the fruit to be stored for more extended periods of time.

Nowadays, many more natural ingredients -not based on fossil fuels- are used to make coatings. Among the most widely used ingredients are:

  • beeswax (bees)
  • candelia wax (desert plant)
  • carnauba wax (Brazilian palm)
  • shellac (Indian lac bug)

Synthetic esters are also used, they can be made by combining fatty acids and sucrose. Polyethylene is also frequently applied; it is interesting to note that it can be vegan if the ethanol is made from corn.

Consumer perceptions have also evolved in time. A larger proportion of buyers is more in synch with their food, their precedence and any treatments that have been applied.

Trends driving change in the agrifood industry

The agrifood industry is rapidly evolving. Among the leading natural food trends driving the change are the demand for a healthier and more sustainable food future. Transparency, plant-based foods, wellness, and food waste are part of the industry’s latest tendencies.

Consumers want to know and understand the ingredients that go into what they eat; they seek simplicity besides quality. It is now routine for consumers to check the back of packages and labels to see what they are buying. Consumers are currently looking for brands that are transparent with their products, their sourcing, and ingredients.

Plant-based burgers are perhaps the better known of the plant-based foods. They became ubiquitous in 2019 in restaurants and grocery stores. They are sought after by vegans, vegetarians, and everyone else trying to reduce their meat intake. More recently, plant-based pork, fish, and chicken have also become available, along with non-dairy milk, cream, and mayo.

Health and wellness are gaining traction in the agrifood industry, accompanied by labels claiming “better for you” characteristics and organic alternatives. Consumers are becoming more educated on the benefits of healthier choices. This has led companies to change many of their products for other options with less sugar, preservatives, fats, artificial coloring, and GMO-free.

In an effort to reduce food waste, the practice of upcycling foods is becoming more common. Upcycling allows producers to add value to by-products or surplus ingredients that otherwise would have been wasted. Rescuing wonky fruits and vegetables, using eggshells to make a calcium supplement, and turning fruits into sugar substitutes are among the many food upcycling ideas.

The development and implementation of eco-friendly and sustainable packaging is a growing trend in the food industry. Many companies have started to use compostable, biodegradable or recycled materials. The use of sustainable packaging helps companies meet their environmental goals, and it also helps them enhance the brand’s image as consumers become more aware. It has been estimated that 74% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.

Natural alternatives to preserve fruits, reduce food waste and protect consumers health

Many new alternatives that consider the latest natural food trends in the food tech industry and AgTech industry have appeared globally. PolyNatural is a startup with a clear view towards using more natural plant-based ingredients and reducing food waste.

PolyNatural’s Shel-Life® is a natural coating that creates a “second skin” in fruits, especially used in those that travel long distances from South America to northern markets.

Shel-Life®is prepared from polysaccharides made from rinds discarded from the juicing industry. This natural and innocuous polymer protects the fruit from dehydration and the action of microorganisms. In that way, it allows for a longer shelf-life while maintaining its natural smell, flavor, and shine.

Also, Shel-Life® can outperform all other products available in the market since it is made from all-natural ingredients, ensuring its consumer’s wellness. It can also reduce rot incidence and dehydration, thus reducing food waste. Furthermore, Shel-Life is organically certified in the United States and Europe.

Shel-Life® has a 3% rot incidence reduction and 7% less dehydration. It has an equal performance as current petrol-based coatings but has no restrictions for entering the European market due to its all-natural ingredients. When comparing with untreated fruits, Shel-Life® extends in 40% gondola days.

Shel-Life®is available for pomaceous, citrus, and stone fruits, besides one specially designed for avocado. In the development process for cherries, blueberries, and kiwis.

The trend to achieve a more transparent, sustainable, and healthier food tech and AgTech industry is here to stay. By adapting to consumer’s demands, the industry is turning towards a world with potentially less food waste and hunger.

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