The demand for the litchi fruit is high,but supply is very limited due to its highly perishable nature. This becomes a bottleneck in litchi trade. Now,the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has developed a technology which considerably increases the shelf life of litchi,for upto a month or more.
Litchi is highly perishable and has a non-climacteric (ripens on the tree itself) nature. The colour of the fruit turns brown soon after harvest. Fruits also get spoiled soon after harvest due to physiological and microbiological changes. Though India is the second largest producer of litchi,a commercially viable technique was not available till now in India for its shelf life extension. Non-availability of a proper technique has been the biggest barrier for ambitious vendors involved in the trade of fruits. The irradiation technology developed by BARC offers a practical solution to the difficulties associated with litchi trade, says A K Sharma,head of the food technology division at BARC.
A sequential surface chemical dip combination process has been developed at BARC that will help retain the pinkish-red color of litchi fruit during prolonged storage (45 days) at low temperature (4ºC). The post-harvest browning of the fruit also does not occur after the treatment. It helps in retaining major color pigments and also kills microbes (bacteria,yeast and mold) present on the fruit. All these changes result in quality maintenance of litchi during prolonged storage without adversely affecting its nutritional and sensory properties as the fruits are dip-treated with GRAS or generally recognised as safe chemicals. There are no harmful residues, explains Sharma.
Such a technology,says BARC,has major advantages as processed fruits are of high quality and have a very good export potential through sea and air routes. According to officials,there is tremendous industrial potential as many secondary products like juice,fruit jam,squash,custards,blends with ice-creams and beverage like wine,can be prepared.
Longer shelf life can facilitate greater market coverage. A consumer can keep the processed-packed fruit in the refrigerator and consume it for over a month. The export will go up manifold as the litchi fruit will now be able to reach any part of the world. The entire procedure can also be scaled up as per the requirement,from small to industrial scale. Manpower requirement and energy consumption is very less. As costly instruments or much technical expertise are not needed,it can be operated with minimum training, he says.
The technology is currently available for transfer to the industry. Sharma says such technologies,alone or in combination with the technology of radiation processing,will not only help in international trade and take care of quarantine requirements of various countries,but will also help India address food security and food safety issues. Several years back,BARC had developed a technology which addressed quarantine barriers and helped in export of mango to the USA. This technology developed for treating litchi and increasing its life is yet another milestone, he adds.