Dr. Tony Savard and his team from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s St-Hyacinthe Research Development Centre re-examined the usual way of treating vegetables -blanching - which refers to briefly heat-treating the vegetables before freezing.
While this method is helpful for ensuring food safety and preventing freezer burn, it also affects the taste and texture which some people don’t like even when nutritional value is retained.
The team worked with Bonduelle Amérique as part of the Canadian Food Innovator research cluster, to come up with a fresh alternative for processing vegetables for freezing: partially drying them using low doses of microwaves combined with a vacuum process. Doing so avoided the breakdown of vegetable tissue that happens with freezing and thawing. This innovative method preserves the natural flavour and even improves it in certain cases, while still ensuring food safety. Furthermore, the texture of the vegetables is maintained.
"New markets are possible if we can improve the taste of frozen vegetables and maintain high standards of food safety," says Savard.
Whether or not a consumer picks a frozen option likely depends on their previous experience with frozen foods. And with healthy choices being so popular among Canadians, creating frozen foods that are both healthy and tasty is important. As such, Savard and his team will continue exploring new options for preserving the veggies that we love to eat.
Ultimately, if new methods of food preservation can be developed then new markets will also be opened. The domestic market for preserved fruits and vegetables is valued at $7.5 billion. The export market is also strong, worth over $3 billion in 2015, according to Statistics Canada. That same year saw almost $6.5 billion in total revenue. There are more than 17,000 Canadians employed in the sector, contributing in different ways to produce great food options. With so much economic activity generated it is important to identify what food areas can be improved upon.
The findings emerged from a "research cluster" organized between government and industry. Bringing together expertise from the public and private sectors has generated positive results like this new preservation method. Best of all, it’s helping Canadians find something both healthy and delicious to eat.
- Soggy onions and peppers no more! New preservation method improves natural flavour and maintains texture during freezing and thawing.
- Food processing industry will have new tools to preserve vegetables, which may open new markets.