2.3 Activities of living systems

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Fruit and vegetables are in a live state after harvest. Continued respiration gives off carbon dioxide, moisture, and heat which influence storage, packaging, and refrigeration requirements. Continued transpiration adds to moisture evolved and further influences packaging requirements.

Further activities of fruit and vegetables, before and after harvest, include changes in carbohydrates, pectins, organic acids, and the effects these have on various quality attributes of the products.

As for changes in carbohydrates, few generalizations can be given with respect to starches and sugars. In some plant products sugars quickly decrease and starch increases in amount soon after harvest. This is the case for ripe sweet corn which can suffer flavour and texture quality losses in a very few hours after harvest.

Unripe fruit, in contrast, is frequently high in starch and low in sugars. Continued ripening after harvest generally results in a decrease in starch and a increase in sugars as in the case of apples and pears. However, this does not necessarily mean that the starch is the source of the newly formed sugars.

Further, the courses of change in starch and sugars are markedly influenced by postharvest storage temperatures. Thus potatoes stored below about 10 C (50 F) continue to build up high levels of sugars, while the same potatoes stored above 10 C do not.

This property is used to help the dehydration process in potato storage. Here potatoes should have a low reducing sugar content so as to minimise Maillard browning reactions during drying and subsequent storage of the dried product. In this case potatoes are stored above 10C prior to being further processed.

After harvest the pectin changes in fruit and vegetables are more predictable. Generally there is decrease in water-insoluble pectic substance and a corresponding increase in watersoluble pectin. This contributes to the gradual softening of fruits and vegetables during storage and ripening. Further breakdown of water-soluble pectin by pectin methyl esterase also occurs.

The organic acids of fruit generally decreases during storage and ripening. This occurs in apples and pears and is especially important in the case of oranges. Oranges have a long ripening period on the tree and time of picking is largely determined by degree of acidity and sugar content which have major effects upon juice quality.

It is important to note that the reduction of acid content on ripening influences more than just the tartness of fruit. Since many of the plant pigments are sensitive to acid, fruit colour would be expected to change. Additionally, the viscosity of pectin gel is affected by acid and sugar contents, both of which change with ripening.

2.4 Stability of nutrients

One of the principal responsibilities of the food scientist and food technologist is to preserve food nutrients through all phases of food acquisition, processing, storage, and preparation. The key is in the specific sensitivities of the various nutrients, the principles of which are illustrated in Table 2.4.1.

TABLE 2.4.1 Specific sensitivity and stability of nutrients*

Nutrient Neutral pH 7 Acid < pH 7 Alkaline > pH 7 Air or Oxygen Light Heat Cooking Losses, Range
Vitamin A S U S U U U 0-40
Ascorbic U S U U U U 0-100
Biotin S S S S S U 0-60
Carotenes S U S U U U 0-30
(pro A)             0-5
Choline S S S U S S 0-10
Cobalamin S S S U U S  
(B12)             0-40
Vitamin D S   U U U U 0-10
Essential S S U U U S  
fatty acids  
Folic acid U U S U U U 0-100
Inositol S S S S S U 0-95
Vitamin K S U U S U S 0-5
Niacin (PP) S S S S S S 0-75
Pantbothenic S U U S S U 0-50
p-Amino S S S U S S 0-5
Benzoic acid              
Vitamin B6 S S S S U U 0-40
Riboflavin S S U S U U 0-75
Tbiamin (B1) U S U U S U 0-80
Tocopherols S S S U U U 0-55

*Source: Harris and Karmas, 1975
(U = Unstable; S = Stable)

This shows the stability of vitamins, essential amino acids, and minerals to acid, air, light, and heat, and gives an indication of possible cooking losses. Vitamin A is highly sensitive to acid, air, light and heat; vitamin C to alkalinity, air, light and heat; vitamin D to alkalinity, air, light and heat; thiamin to alkalinity, air, and heat in alkaline solutions; etc. Cooking losses of some essential nutrients may be in excess of 75%. In modern food processing operations, however, losses are seldom in excess of 25% .

The ultimate nutritive value of a food results from the sum total of losses incurred throughout its history - from farmer to consumer. Nutrient value begins with genetics of the plant and animal. The farmland fertilization program affects tissue composition of plants, and animals consuming these plants. The weather and degree of maturity at harvest affect tissue composition.

Storage conditions before processing affect vitamins and other nutrients. Washing, trimming, and heat treatments affect nutrient content. Canning, evaporating, drying, and freezing alter nutritional values, and the choices of times and temperatures in these operations frequently must be balanced between good bacterial destruction and minimum nutrient destruction.

Packaging and subsequent storage affect nutrients. One of the most important factors is the final preparation of the food in the home and the restaurant - the steam table can destroy much of what has been preserved through all prior manipulations.

2.5 Structural features

The structural unit of the edible portion of most fruits and vegetables is the parenchyma cell. While parenchyma cells of different fruit and vegetables differ somewhat in gross size and appearance, all have essentially the same fundamental structure.

Parenchyma cells of plants differ from animal cells in that the actively metabolising protoplast portion of plant cells represents only a small fraction, of the order of five per cent, of the total cell volume. This protoplast is film-like and is pressed against the cell wall by the large water-filled central vacuole.

The protoplast has inner and outer semi-permeable membrane layers; the cytoplasm and its nucleus are held between them. The cytoplasm contains various inclusions, among them starch granules and plastics such as the chloroplasts and other pigment-containing chromoplasts. The cell wall, cellulose in nature, contributes rigidity to the parenchyma cell and limits the outer protoplasmic membrane. It is also the structure against which other parenchyma cells are cemented to form extensive three-dimensional tissue masses.

The layer between cell walls of adjacent parenchyma cells is referred to as the middle lamella, and is composed largely of pectic and polysaccharide cement-like materials. Air spaces also exist, especially at the angles formed where several cells come together.

The relationships between these structures and their chemical compositions are further outlined below. The parenchyma cells will vary in size among plants but are quite large when compared to bacterial or yeast cells. The larger parenchyma cells may have volumes many thousand times greater than a typical bacterial cell.

There are additional types of cells other than parenchyma cells that make up the familiar structures of fruit and vegetables. These include various types of conducting cells which are tube-like and distribute water and salts throughout the plant.

Such cells produce fibrous structures toughened by the presence of cellulose and the woodlike substance lignin. Cellulose, lignin, and pectic substances also occur in specialised supporting cells which increase in importance as plants become older.

An important structural feature of all plants, including fruit and vegetables is protective tissue. This can take many forms but usually is made up of specialised parenchyma cells that are pressed compactly together to form a skin, peel or rind.

Surface cells of these protective structures on leaves, stems or fruit secrete waxy cutin and form a water impermeable cuticle. These surface tissues, especially on leaves and young stems will also contain numerous valve-like cellular structures, the stomata, through which moisture and gases can pass.

Structural and chemical components of the vegetal cells are seen in Table 2.5.1.

TABLE 2.5.1 Structural and chemical components of the cells

Vacuole H2O, inorganic salts, organic acids, oil droplets, sugars, water-soluble pigments, amino acids, vitamins
- Membrane tonoplast (inner) plasmalemma (outer) protein, lipoprotein, phospholipids, physic acid
- Nucleus  
- Cytoplasm  
chloroplasts Chlorophyll
mesoplasm (ground substance) enzymes, intermediary metabolites, nucleic acid
mitochondria enzymes (protein), Fe, Cu. Mo vitamin coenzyme
microsomes nucleoproteins, enzymes (proteins), nucleic acid
starch grains reserve carbohydrate (starch), phosphorus
aleurone reserve protein
chromoplast pigments (carotenoids)
oil droplets triglycerides of fatty acids
crystals calcium oxalate, etc.
Cell Wall  
- primary wall cellulose, hemicellulose, pectic substances and non-cellulose
- middle lamella pectic substances and non-cellulose polysaccharides, Mg, Ca
- plasmodesmata cytoplasmic strands interconnecting cyctoplasm of cells through pores in the cell wall
- surface materials esters of long chain fatty acids (cutin or cuticle) and long chain alcohols

Source: Feinberg (1973)

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