All the benefits of a fresh, whole blueberry – in a bottle

Blueberries, especially wild varieties, are well-known for their health-boosting antioxidants. Imagine a product that can give you the full health benefits of eating fresh blueberries – but in liquid form.

That’s PURE Blueberry, a unique new blueberry purée now on the market that was the winner of
an innovation prize at the SIAL food exposition in Montreal last year.

Here’s what sets it apart from other liquid blueberry products, like juice.

PURE Blueberry is made using a new production process that liquefies the entire berry (peel, seed and
pulp) and better preserves the fruit’s nutritional value. HydroThermoDynamics (HTD) allows the berries
to be processed at lower temperatures in a closed system that protects nutrients from oxidation. The result is two times more antioxidants than the best wild blueberry juice.

Dr. Alex Martynenko of Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture, who originally worked on cavitation technology in his native Ukraine, has teamed up with PEI Berries Ltd. and Dr. Lihua Fan of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Atlantic Food and Horticulture Research Centre to help them develop new products using blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries, but without additives or preservatives.

“We needed to develop quality and food safety standards, so we successfully tested the technology on an industrial scale in 2013 with 28 small scale runs of wild blueberries,” explains Dr. Martynenko.

And although the process was successful, a new challenge arose: they weren’t able to get a consistent product that also had a consistent shelf-life. In order to maintain the product’s health benefits, a low  temperature process has to be used, but this change impacts its microbial stability and affects shelf-life.

Through funding support received from the cluster, Dr. Martynenko began working with researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to look at heat-resistant moulds and how to reduce associated food safety risk in order to get a shelf-life of at least one year.

“This technology is quite versatile for a variety of berries, allowing us to develop natural berry food products with minimal modification of our processing lines,” he points out.

Results have shown that combining HTD with temperature completely sterilized the product at 95 C, which is superior compared to conventional heat treatment. As well, combining high-intensity HTD with temperature treatments of 88 to 94 C also achieved safe food standards.

The major benefits of the HTD process include increasing the vitamin availability in fruits or vegetables, retaining their natural proteins and polyunsaturated fatty acids, converting fibre into monosaccharides which increases sweetness, and inactivating microorganisms. It can also convert almost any fruit or vegetable to a powdered form.

Dr. Martynenko adds that the developments of this technology and related processes will provide new opportunities for the berry sector, letting them access the global market with innovative products that were not previously available.

Next steps in the research include clinical trials to study the short-term human health effects of PURE Blueberry, and evaluate consumer perceptions and sensory characteristics. Dr. Martynenko and PEI Berries are also working on using HTD on cranberries, with plans to move to strawberries and black currants in upcoming years.

Future opportunities include development of new foods with health-promoting properties, improving the palatability of functional foods with a short shelf-life, and the ability to extract bioactives or other functional ingredients.

“We couldn’t do this work without the support from the Canadian Food Innovators cluster – PEI Berries is a small company run by farmers that wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to hire specialists to do this work for them,” states Dr. Martynenko.

Why is this innovation important?

Health: A liquid form of whole pure blueberries that includes the peel, seed and pulp
will make it easier for people to benefit from their healthy properties.
Food safety: Processes have been developed to ensure the technology produces safe
food products without diminishing their health benefits.
Economics: This technology will enable the berry sector to bring unique, new products
to market, helping strengthen their long-term viability in Canadian agriculture and
food processing.

What does this innovation mean to Canada’s food processing industry?

Use of HTD in food processing opens up new opportunities for developing foods with health-promoting properties, as well as the ability to extract bioactives or other functional ingredients.

About PEI Berries Ltd.

PEI Berries is a farmer-owned food processing facility based in Montague, Prince Edward Island. The farmers that ship to PEI Berries all believe in a sustainable approach, including not using any fungicides or insecticides on their blueberries, with the long term goal of having fully certified organic inputs. Its flagship product is a 100 percent PURE Wild Blueberry Puree. www.peiberries.com

About the project team

Dr. Alex Martynenko is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering at Dalhousie University’s  Faculty of Agriculture where his research includes computer-vision, imaging, bioinstrumentation, and agricultural automation. Dr. Martynenko holds a BSc. in engineering from the National Agricultural University of Ukraine, a Master’s in Agricultural Engineering from Moscow Agroengineering University, and a
PhD in Biological Engineering from the University of Guelph.

Dr. Lihua Fan is a Research Scientist in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Atlantic Food and Horticulture Research Centre with extensive experience in food science and food microbiology. Her research projects focus on the study and characterization of heat-resistant moulds in wild blueberry products, and she is involved in the determination of time/temperature conditions to inactivate heat-resistant moulds in blueberry juice and shelf-life studies to address food safety issues.

Dr. Bohdan Luhovyy is an Assistant Professor of Applied Human Nutrition at Mount Saint Vincent University and has extensive experience in the area of nutritional physiology and functional foods. His work includes nutritional clinical trials using Canadian crops and innovative food products, focusing on the regulation of food intake, satiety, blood glucose control, and prevention of metabolic disorders including obesity and
type-2 diabetes.

Theme

Adding value to agricultural products

Project

Development of innovative food products by using cavitation technology to address quality and safety aspects

Industry partner

PEI Berries Ltd., Montague PE

Principal investigator

Dr. Alex Martynenko, Dalhousie University

Dr. Bohdan Luhovyy, Mount Saint Vincent University

Dr. Lihua Fan*, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Kentville NS

Anticipated completion date

31 December 2017