Innovation of the Week: Improving Strawberry Nutrition and Storage with Alcohol

By Jenna Banning

Global food waste is a major problem facing our planet. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately one-third of all food produced goes to waste. In the developing world, over 40 percent of food losses occur after the product has been harvested. But small farmers all over the world are using innovations that help to protect their harvests, such as using more efficient materials and implementing better storage and processing techniques learned through trainings.

Strawberries are very nutritious, and have been shown to help regulate body sugars, lower inflammation, and even prevent some diseases. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

One team of researchers from Thailand and the United States has been working on improving the storage abilities of delicate crops including strawberries, which are highly perishable and fragile. Strawberries are very nutritious, and have been shown to help regulate body sugars, lower inflammation, and even prevent some diseases. It is estimated, however, that strawberries can only be stored for two days before losing significant levels of these antioxidants and phytonutrients that make them so beneficial. Dr. Korakot Chanjirakul and his colleagues from Kasetsart University in Thailand, as well as scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ran tests in which strawberries were treated with ethanol, and then analyzed for storage capabilities. They found that ethanol helped to boost certain compounds in the berries, which helped to resist decay. This development offers great potential for strawberry farmers. By treating their berries with ethanol, they will be able to store their harvests for longer, thus improving their potential sales and incomes.

But by discovering the interaction between the nutritional compounds and ethanol, these scientists made another surprising conclusion – namely, mixing alcohol and strawberries (as well as blackberries) makes the berries more nutritious! The ethanol treatment increased the strawberries’ antioxidant capacity and free radical activity, improving the physiology of the fruit.

The combination of these discoveries is very exciting for strawberry lovers, who will now be able to enjoy more nutritious fruits, as well as for strawberry growers, who can now store their harvests for longer. As scientific research and attention is shifting towards improving crop preservation as well as production, farmers and consumers alike benefit.

Have you heard of any other innovative ways of preserving produce?

Jenna Banning is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more on the challenges and improvements surrounding food storage, see: Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of Our Abundance, Wasted food worsens hunger problem, FAO report: 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption lost or wasted each year, What Works: Reducing Food Waste, Innovation of the Week: Beating the Heat to Reduce Post-Harvest Waste.

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