New antibacterial films made from fruits and vegetables may protect produce in the future. Eric Libby reports.
Take a bite into a crispy apple and taste the… cinnamon? That might be the future if Tara McHugh of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service has her way.
She and her colleagues use pureed fruits and vegetables mixed with oils from herbs and spices to create antibacterial films. These sheets – less than a millimeter thick – are wrapped around produce and other foods, to keep them from spoiling and to avoid contamination.
McHugh says the films "are made from at least 85% fruit or vegetable." They have the same color as the fruit or vegetable from which they are made. "So the carrot is bright orange, the tomato is red [and] broccoli is green."
McHugh also adds essential oils from herbs and spices that flavor the films. The main reason the oils are added, though, is because of their antibacterial properties. Oregano and cinnamon are especially potent against bacteria.
McHugh says that although she is aware that bacteria may develop resistance she does not expect any problems since these herbs and spices have been around for centuries.
Besides protection, McHugh says there are other benefits to the fruity films. For one thing, they add additional fruit or vegetable to foods and, therefore, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables consumers eat.
Also, McHugh works with farmers to better use the produce they grow so the "films are made from fruit purees that can utilize fruit or vegetables that may be sized wrong for the fresh market."
Since these films have flavors, part of McHugh's work is to find the best taste combinations. Her lab has official tastings to see whether the films developed are acceptable to consumers. McHugh says her favorite one so far is the apple cinnamon, which she says tastes great on ice cream.