The funding aims to help New Zealand’s cherry industry reap its health benefits

First off, the country’s Ko Ngā Kai Whai Painga National Science Challenge for Quality Nutrition (HVN) awarded Cherri Health and Manufacturing (CH&M) a development grant worth NZ$55,000 (US$34,000). The development grant is aimed at emerging industries to encourage their growth.

The company will work with Massey University’s Riddet Institute to identify commercial opportunities for six species of New Zealand cherries as functional health products.

“New Zealand cherries are exported to China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Consumers buy these cherries as gifts, especially during Chinese New Year. We have an advantage as cherry season coincides with the festival.

“Last summer, from December to February, we saw a big, double-digit growth in cherry exports compared to last year. The export value is estimated at NZ$78 million (US$49 million). We therefore see enormous growth potential.

“With bioactive ingredient research, we can compete with other markets like North America by providing stronger nutritional information. We are aiming for 20% growth next year,” said Joanne Todd, director of the HVN National Science Challenge.

HVN is one of the country’s 11 National Science Challenges and will be awarded NZ$45 million (US$33 million) in funding from 2019-2024. Hosted by the University of Auckland Liggins Institute and funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Employment, the challenge is a mission-led program of innovative research into the health attributes of food produced in New Zealand for key export markets.

“Even if the cherries have been damaged by storms, we can still use them to make other products with health benefits. Here we also look at the supply chain through product development and reduce food waste. For example, the cherries can be processed into juices, chutney, flavorings and ice cream.”adds Todd.

Research Details

dr Ali Rashidinjad of the Riddet Institute. ©Riddet Institute

Led by senior researcher and food scientist Dr. Ali Rashidinjad builds the research on previous literature suggesting that fruits grown in the country tend to have enhanced bioactive benefits, e.g. B. boysenberries and black currants.

The project aims to explore the bioactive and nutritional properties of six popular cherry varieties – Bing, Kordia, Rainier, Lapin, Sweetheart and Staccato. The project is also investigating whether the test results meet the threshold to make health claims about the possible bioactive properties of our cherries.

Factors to analyze are proteins, carbohydrates, sugars (fructose, glucose and galactose), fats and fiber. Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E, D and K and water-soluble vitamins such as C and B groups are also examined.

In terms of antioxidant properties, the most important factor to examine would be the total phenolic content in the samples collected. However, the concentration of some specific compounds such as melatonin, phenolic acids and anthocyanins is also determined using techniques such as high performance liquid chromatography.

The team also took fresh samples from the orchard, which are compared to those from the packhouse to identify any nutrient or bioactive losses during transport and packaging.

After the research is completed around Q4 2022 or early 2023, it could pave the way for larger related projects such as: B. the production of functional foods and formulations with health claims. Further research with the potential to measure bioactivity in vivo through clinical trials may also follow.

“We believe that New Zealand cherries have superior health benefits compared to cherries grown abroad, but due to lack of knowledge we have not yet capitalized on this.

“Based on figures from our industrial partner (CH&M), around 30% of annual production, or around 8,000 tonnes of fruit, is wasted annually and this can increase in years with bad weather. So one of the next steps is to look for ways to add value to this massive waste.”said Dr. Rashidinedjad.

Phil Alison, CEO of CH&M, predicted that over the next five years, new plantings by Cherri and other cherry growers in Otago will see a huge increase, leading to a significant increase in the volume of waste. Turning this waste into a health-promoting product will help the environment, create new jobs and offer additional health benefits to consumers, he said.

“We are excited about the results this project is expected to deliver and the prospects arising from the validation of cherry-derived bioagents, including the identification of high-value food opportunities from second-rate cherries and cherry waste.”‘ Alison said.

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