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Removing sand from asparagus may make industry more competitive

from asparagus may make industry more competitive


April 15, 2008
By Fruit & Vegetable

Topics

Researchers may have discovered a
way to aid asparagus growers and processors struggling against less
expensive imports – reduce the amount of sand present in the harvested
product.

asparagusResearchers may have discovered a way to aid asparagus growers and processors struggling against less expensive imports – reduce the amount of sand present in the harvested product.

Though asparagus grows best in sandy, well-drained soil, Kirk Dolan, Michigan Agriculture Experiment Station food science and human nutrition and biosystems and agricultural engineering researcher, explained that grit in asparagus causes concern for growers and food processors.

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“Those little sand particles can be annoying,” he said. “Sand gets caught in the heads of the asparagus and it’s difficult to remove.”

Local asparagus processors approached Dolan with hopes of finding a way to increase the quality of their asparagus by reducing the amount of sand found in fresh, canned and frozen asparagus.

Currently, the established industry cleaning process has asparagus stalks running over a shaker table and being blanched in a water bath to remove sand. Dolan and his research team collaborated with other Michigan State University agricultural engineers to design equipment that sprays water on the asparagus at strategic angles and water pressure levels as it travels along a conveyor belt at the processing facility. Tests indicate that the newly-designed sprayer removes more sand than the traditional method.

Dolan said finding ways to improve the quality of asparagus, including sand removal, is key to increasing product sales. Changes in North American trade practices in recent years have drawn in a flood of low-priced South American asparagus to both Canada and the U.S.

“Peru has been exporting less expensive asparagus,” he said. “We can’t compete with cheaper South American labour costs, but we can compete on product quality. Less sand will result in a higher quality end product for consumers.”

Applying the new spray technology may mean that growers’ harvest decisions are less severely restricted by the weather – they will be able to harvest asparagus when it is at peak quality. Traditionally, growers haven’t been able to pick asparagus immediately after rain because too much soil splatters into the plant head. With the new sprayer, this rain-driven sand can easily be rinsed away.

Researchers want to install the new sprayers in processing facilities so processors can compare the new technology with conventional sand removal methods. Dolan said the sprayers would be relatively inexpensive to install in factories. He hopes to see more positive results and feedback from growers and factory owners.


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