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Ap-peeling citrus chemistry.

Ap-peeling citrus chemistry

A large U.S. market exists for commercially peeled and sectioned citrus fruit, usually packaged in cans. However, because grapefruits and organges can be difficult to peel, most of this work is done by hand--a process both time consuming and labor-intensive, and one that wastes up to 30 percent of the edible fruit. Two decases ago, 20 processing plants produced citrus sections in Florida; today there are only two. Labor costs have driven most of this industry overseas, says Robert A. Baker, research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Citrus and Subtropical Products Laboratory in Winter Haven, Fla. But Baker believes a simple chemical process patented by his lab could bring much of that industry back home.

The sponge-like cutrus peel is primarily air space. Baker's new process submerges fresh fruit in a water bath containing pectinase -- an enzyme able to break down the intercellular cement that holds cells of the peel together. When a vacuum is applied, air bubbles out of the fruit's peel. Then the vacuum is released, driving the dilute pectinase solution into a peel's pores. Fifteen to 30 minutes later, the peel will slip off as cleanly as a tangerine's, Baker says. And because a little of the nontoxic, FDA-approved enzyme also attacks the pectin holding together sections of the fruity, they too separate as easily as the segments of a tangerine.

Because each sectioned piece retains its membrane covering, the fruit is firmer -- holding open the prospect that mechanical processes might eventually do the peeling and separating. This process also offers producers 100 percent of the edible fruit. In fact, Baker suggests, fresh sectioned fruit might be sold withoug being immersed in juice or syrup -- perhaps as a refrigerated snack food or a nonmushy offering at salad bars.
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Title Annotation:new process for peeling citrus fruit
Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 15, 1988
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