Researchers working at the University of Alicante in Spain have unveiled a new packaging material made from pineapple waste, which they claim can naturally increase the shelf life of certain food products.
The innovation comes as a result of the ‘Development of Natural Bioaromas to Increase the Shelf Life of Fresh Food and Reduce Food Waste’ project, which has been underway at the university’s Department of Analytical Chemistry, Nutrition and Food Sciences since late 2021.
Using the core and rind of pineapples, the team has achieved a new material which contains “active natural compounds” that boast antioxidant qualities.
This means that not only can pineapple act as a container – and thus physical barrier for food – but it can also interact with the food itself and stop it from oxidising, thereby increasing shelf life.
The benefits of the material are two-fold, Ana Beltrán, one of the researchers on the team, explained. As well as replacing traditional plastic, the packaging material also intercepts pineapple food waste.
As much as 50% of each fruit is wasted, she said, with the rind and core being the most commonly discarded parts. “Thus, a second life is given to waste,” she explained.
Currently, the prototype material is in testing phase and is being used to control the rancidity (the process which refers to oxidation of fats) of packaged fresh food like red meat, to give it a longer life.
Arantzazu Valdés, another researcher on the project, said the team’s ultimate aim is to refine the material further, to produce “edible films of natural origin”. They could then be used across a wide range of food products and reduce dependence on resource-intensive and polluting single-use plastic.
According to the team, future applications could be on other “fatty” foods, which tend to get rancid quicker.
Also being interrogated as part of the project is the adding of “aroma-enhancing active compounds” to the material – that is, particles which can enhance consumers’ eating experience of some food products through the sense of smell. These are also derived from pineapples.
Beltrán explained these aroma-enhancing compounds, which produce a fruity and sweet smell, could be useful in food and beverages in the future.
Pineapples have been a point of focus for material scientists for some time. In fashion, the fibre of pineapple leaves has been utilised to create Piñatex, an animal-free leather alternative.
Beyond pineapples, there are several other fruits and vegetables which are being explored for packaging solutions which are more sustainable than plastic, including coconut and cassava.
Others still, like Californian start-up Apeel Sciences, are concentrating on the properties of a combination of fruit and vegetable waste. Apeel’s spray-on coating has recently been adopted by Asda.
The natural properties of select fruit and vegetables make them ideal candidates for packaging solutions.
“Food waste and residues of plant origin, such as husks, stems, seeds or bran, among others, contain potentially valuable components such as flavouring agents, phytochemicals and bioactive compounds with nutritional properties, antimicrobial activity and antioxidants favourable in the development of new functional materials, with beneficial effects for food preservation,” said Beltrán.
“They are a necessary way for the food industry to contribute to society by reducing waste, addressing sustainability objectives and promoting the concept of a circular economy.”