An international research team is developing nanotechnology-based applications of hexanal, a natural plant extract that extends the storage life of harvested fruit.
Bananas, mangoes and papayas: these tender tropical fruits are in high demand in export markets and an important livelihood source for producers. But freshness is key because these fruits spoil quickly and damage easily. The challenge is especially daunting where refrigeration is lacking. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of produce in tropical countries is lost in post-harvest handling.
Breakthrough research by Canadian, Indian, and Sri Lankan partners points to a promising innovation: nanotech applications of a natural plant extract called hexanal can be used to delay fruit ripening. Hexanal inhibits a plant enzyme that is responsible for breaking cell membranes during a fruit’s ripening process.
In initial research in India and Sri Lanka, scientists used a hexanal-impregnated formula to test the product on mangoes. Spraying orchards with a low concentration of the compound slowed fruit ripening by three weeks. The team is also developing “smart packaging” systems, made from materials such as banana fibre, that slowly release hexanal to extend storage life after fruit is harvested.
These applications can boost farmers’ incomes. “Let’s say a mango farmer sprays half or one third of the orchard with the formulation,” explains Jay Subramanian, a professor at Canada’s University of Guelph. “He gets that same mango production but spread out over a three- to four-week window instead of just one week, which causes a major rush and a glut in the market, leading to low prices.”
In field trials, farmers were able to earn up to 15% more for their crop. Once harvested, the sprayed mangoes remained fresh for up to 26 days in cold storage and 17 days at room temperature.
Researchers at the University of Guelph, India’s Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and Sri Lanka’s Industrial Technology Institute are building on this early success. Under a second phase of funding through the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund, a joint initiative of IDRC and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, they are taking their investigations beyond Asia.
Together with institutions in Kenya, Tanzania, and Trinidad and Tobago, they are looking at hexanal applications with other fruits under different growing conditions. The research teams are testing a variety of sprays, coatings and packaging on bananas, citrus, papayas and even some Canadian tender fruits and berries. Each fruit presents its own unique challenges, such as ripening along different timelines, requiring fine-tuning of the application process.
Biosafety testing shows promise. Already approved as a food additive in the United States, hexanal leaves no harmful residues. “It’s a very natural compound,” says Dr Subramanian. “In our academic research we have found that if you spray or dip the fruit with it, within 48 hours it’s all gone — you can’t find even a trace using a microscope.”
A range of new materials is being developed, including wraps containing electro-spun or sprayed nanoparticles infused with hexanal for slow release of hexanal vapours. While exploring ways to delay ripening and improve shelf life, scientists are looking for opportunities to commercialise these technologies so they can be scaled up. The aim is to ensure the technology has a global reach and benefits low-income farmers, not just large producers.
Learn more: Nanotech extends shelf life of fresh fruit
The Latest on: Hexanal
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The Latest on: Hexanal
- Fortification - For health and deficiencies prevention on February 17, 2019 at 6:43 pm
In general, ascorbyl palmitate, either alone or in combination with the co-spray-dried here iron, prevented primary oxidation and hexanal formation during storage. The combination of both strategies r... […]
- Acute Effects of Exposure to Hexanal Vapors in Humans on May 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm
Objective: n-Hexanal is a major component in emissions from stored wood pellets. The production and use of wood pellets has increased dramatically. Our aim was to evaluate acute health effects of n-he... […]
- New technology assures longer shelf life, season of mangoes on March 22, 2018 at 8:47 pm
The technology, ‘Enhanced Freshness Formulation’ (EFF), uses hexanal or hexanaldehyde, an organic compound secreted by plants. Hexanal is incorporated in a formulation of nano-particles. This is then ... […]
- Researchers developing nanotechnology-based applications of hexanal for agriculture on June 16, 2016 at 5:00 pm
Spraying hexanal formula on mango trees. Credit: Vijay Kutty/IDRC Bananas, mangoes and papayas: these tender tropical fruits are in high demand in export markets and an important livelihood source for ... […]
- Why do truffles taste so weird? on November 27, 2015 at 2:07 am
Other common truffle scents, like 3-methyl-1-butanol, which smells of chocolate and whiskey, and hexanal, which smells grassy, also could be coming from both the colonisers and the colonised. Rarer tr... […]
- Trick Your Brain into Eating Less When You're at Home on May 6, 2013 at 5:00 pm
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- Is the Secret to Olive Oil in Its Scent? on March 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm
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The research team managed to identify two substances that reduce the absorption of glucose from the blood in liver cells: Hexanal and E2-Hexenal. They also discovered that Italian olive oil contained ... […]
- The (Dog’s) Nose Knows: Sensor Mimics Canine Sniffing Cells For Smells on May 2, 2012 at 1:00 am
It senses hexanal, a chemical commonly released by rotting food. When a dog takes a whiff of something (possibly stinky to us!), chemical vapors bind to matching proteins on the surface of different c... […]
- Interaction of dairy proteins with hexanal and t-2-hexanal revealed by front face fluorescence on January 15, 2004 at 4:00 pm
This paper was presented in the framework of COST 919 Working Group Two: Binding (especially flavour-binding) properties. The volume in which this paper is published contains the proceedings of COST A... […]
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