University of Otago researchers are demonstrating the potential of new technology which could see New Zealand production of a popular food – the French fry – become healthier, less costly and less wasteful.
Recently arrived Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) processing equipment will be put to the test for large-scale French fry production over the next few months.
The technology, which uses brief pulses of electricity (microseconds) to modify and disrupt the membranes of cells in plant or animal material or microorganisms, has a wide variety of applications across many food processing industries.
Professor Indrawati Oey, head of Otago’s Department of Food Sciences and the PEF project leader, says the electric field being pulsed through uncut potatoes during processing alters their microstructure, which results in a more controlled release of sugar, more uniform colouration and reduced oil uptake.
It also enhances processing as the softer texture makes the potatoes easier to cut, meaning there is less waste, with the ability to develop new shapes (such as lattice cut) and increased knife durability (up to 60%).
“As Pulsed Electric Field processing affects the cell membrane it can be used to enhance the extraction of pigments or bioactive compounds from food, increasing their yield and quality or to kill micro-organisms in the pasteurisation of bulk liquids, such as fruit juices and milk,” Oey says. “With the equipment now in New Zealand, we are excited to begin the industrial trial with the hope of proving the techniques, and in time enabling New Zealand food industries to benefit from this new technology. PEF also has potential to enhance the quality and value of many other New Zealand agricultural and horticultural products.”
The industry pilot programme is part of a Ministry for Business and Innovation-funded food industry enabling technology programme worth nearly NZ$16.8M over a six year period to 2021.
There are six institutions involved in the programme: Massey University (host), the University of Otago, the University of Auckland, Plant & Food Research, AgResearch and the Riddet Institute.
The industry trial is supported by Potatoes New Zealand, and is in collaboration between Elea (Germany) and the University of Otago.