Squeezing the health out of blackberries

Researchers are looking at new food production methods to extract valuable natural compounds from fruits like blackberries. Their work could lead to greater use in foods and medicines to improve public health and wellbeing.

Studies have shown that fresh fruit and vegetables have properties with the ability to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and cancer, and are widely promoted as an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Guidance from the World Health Organization recommends eating a minimum of 400 grammes of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

However, many millions of people across the world regularly miss their nutritional targets prompting researchers to look at alternative ways to extract and introduce important vitamins, minerals and other naturally occurring chemical compounds – such as ellagitannins – to fortify and enrich daily diets.

Ellagitannins are relatively rare in foods but are found in some fruits like blackberries and other rubus fruits. Ellagitannins have antioxidant properties and are potentially beneficial to public health, but minimal research has been undertaken to extract them efficiently and economically.

Using ultrafiltration membranes a team of researchers from France and Costa Rica1 have successfully chemically engineered the extraction of ellagitannins from blackberry juice. Their innovation could see the introduction of another important natural ingredient into the food chain – especially functional foods designed to improve health.

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) chief executive, Dr David Brown, said: “Society continues to be challenged by preventable issues such as rising cancer rates. Education and encouraging people to lead more active lifestyles and nutritionally balanced diets are just some of the solutions. Producing food which is inherently healthier is another option to improve public health.

“Many functional and ‘fortified’ foods like probiotic yogurts and breakfast cereals are staple items in most households and successfully balance health, nutrition and consumer satisfaction. Their production relies on chemical engineering principles.

“The more research we can undertake to identify and extract important ingredients such as ellagitannins on a large scale, the greater the opportunities we have to introduce healthier foods for populations as a whole and address health inequalities.”

The role of chemical engineers in the health, water, food and energy sectors is explored in IChemE’s latest technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters.

For more information go to: www.icheme.org

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