New Zealand potatoes are in for a shock:
An industry pilot programme, part of the Ministry for Business and Innovation funded Food Industry Enabling Technology (FIET) programme worth almost NZD16.8 million (USD 11.3m) , is being trialled at McCain Foods in Washdyke, Timaru, in what has been described as "electrocuting potatoes".
A three month test of the new Pulsed Electric Field Technology (PEF) machine, from Germany, began in Timaru on Wednesday and involves industrial-scale food processing of the popular French fry.
The machine uses a brief electric pulse to modify and disrupt the membranes of cells in plant or animal material.
Otago University researchers are leading the pilot trial on potato processing – with initial research showing promising results for minimising waste through having fewer broken chips during processing
The Pulsed Electric Field Technology (PEF) machine on display at McCain Foods in Washdyke
The aim is to produce healthier fries as the potatoes absorb less oil during the cooking process after having the PEF treatment. The electric field being pulsed through uncut potatoes during processing alters their microstructure, which results in a more controlled release of sugar, more uniform coloration and reduced oil uptake.
McCain Foods Australia/New Zealand director John Jackson said the McCain Timaru plant (Washdyke) was looking to invest $2m in the technology.
Jackson said two key components of the trial were waste reduction and energy saving.
The Washdyke operation employed about 130 people and processed 150,000 tonnes of potatoes annually, he said.
The PEF processing affected the cell membrane so it could be used to enhance the extraction of pigments or bioactive compounds from potatoes, increasing their yield and quality or to kill micro-organisms as an alternative to the pasteurisation process. Jackson said the process was also promising in terms of combating Tomato-Potato Psyllid, which spreads disease in potatoes.
Otago University head of food sciences and PEF project leader Professor Indrawati Oey said PEF technology also had the potential to enhance the quality and value of other agricultural and horticultural products in New Zealand.
Indrawati Oey, Otago University head of food sciences and PEF project leader:
“With the equipment now in New Zealand we are excited to begin the industrial trial with the hope of proving the techniques, and in time enabling New Zealand food industries to benefit from this new technology.”
There was considerable savings in water use and less potato breakage, she said.
Potatoes New Zealand chief executive Chris Claridge the aim was to double potato exports and increase domestic value by 50 per cent by 2025.
Potato export was growing into China and Japan, he said.
“What we are doing is trying to bring a new technology to New Zealand; it electrocutes the potato instead of hard-boiling it.”
“We have to be competitive in the world market.”
New Zealand was the ninth-biggest exporter of potatoes in the world, he said.