2.2 Chemical composition

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2.2.1 Water

Vegetal cells contain important quantities of water. Water plays a vital role in the evolution and reproduction cycle and in physiological processes. It has effects on the storage period length and on the consumption of tissue reserve substances.

In vegetal cells, water is present in following forms:

Vegetables contain generally 90-96% water while for fruit normal water content is between 80 and 90%.


2.2.2 Mineral substances

Mineral substances are present as salts of organic or inorganic acids or as complex organic combinations (chlorophyll, lecithin, etc.); they are in many cases dissolved in cellular juice.

Vegetables are more rich in mineral substances as compared with fruits. The mineral substance content is normally between 0.60 and 1.80% and more than 60 elements are present; the major elements are: K, Na, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Al, P. Cl, S.

Among the vegetables which are especially rich in mineral substances are: spinach, carrots, cabbage and tomatoes. Mineral rich fruit includes: strawberries, cherries, peaches and raspberries. Important quantities of potassium (K) and absence of sodium chloride (NaCl) give a high dietetic value to fruit and to their processed products. Phosphorus is supplied mainly by vegetables.

Vegetables usually contain more calcium than fruit; green beans, cabbage, onions and beans contain more than 0.1% calcium. The calcium/phosphorus or Ca/P ratio is essential for calcium fixation in the human body; this value is considered normal at 0.7 for adults and at 1.0 for children. Some fruit are important for their Ca/P ratio above 1.0: pears, lemons, oranges and some temperate climate mountain fruits and wild berries.

Even if its content in the human body is very low, iron (Fe) has an important role as a constituent of haemoglobin. Main iron sources are apples and spinach.

Salts from fruit have a basic reaction; for this reason fruit consumption facilitates the neutralisation of noxious uric acid reactions and contributes to the acid-basic equilibrium in the blood.


2.2.3 Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the main component of fruit and vegetables and represent more than 90% of their dry matter. From an energy point of view carbohydrates represent the most valuable of the food components; daily adult intake should contain about 500 g carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates play a major role in biological systems and in foods. They are produced by the process of photosynthesis in green plants. They may serve as structural components as in the case of cellulose; they may be stored as energy reserves as in the case of starch in plants; they may function as essential components of nucleic acids as in the case of ribose; and as components of vitamins such as ribose and riboflavin.

Carbohydrates can be oxidised to furnish energy, and glucose in the blood is a ready source of energy for the human body. Fermentation of carbohydrates by yeast and other microorganisms can yield carbon dioxide, alcohol, organic acids and other compounds.

Some properties of sugars. Sugars such as glucose, fructose, maltose and sucrose all share the following characteristics in varying degrees, related to fruit and vegetable technology:

Some properties of starches:

Some properties of celluloses and hemicelluloses:

Some properties of pectins and carbohydrate gums.


2.2.4 Fats

Generally fruit and vegetables contain very low level of fats, below 0.5%. However, significant quantities are found in nuts (55%), apricot kernel (40%), grapes seeds (16%), apple seeds (20%) and tomato seeds (18%).


2.2.5 Organic acids

Fruit contains natural acids, such as citric acid in oranges and lemons, malic acid of apples, and tartaric acid of grapes. These acids give the fruits tartness and slow down bacterial spoilage.

We deliberately ferment some foods with desirable bacteria to produce acids and this give the food flavour and keeping quality. Examples are fermentation of cabbage to produce lactic acid and yield sauerkraut and fermentation of apple juice to produce first alcohol and then acetic acid to obtain vinegar.

Organic acids influence the colour of foods since many plant pigments are natural pH indicators.

With respect to bacterial spoilage, a most important contribution of organic acids is in lowering a food's pH. Under anaerobic conditions and slightly above a pH of 4.6, Clostridium botulinum can grow and produce lethal toxins. This hazard is absent from foods high in organic acids resulting in a pH of 4.6 and less.

Acidity and sugars are two main elements which determine the taste of fruit. The sugar/acid ratio is very often used in order to give a technological characterisation of fruits and of some vegetables.


2.2.6 Nitrogen-containing substances

These substances are found in plants as different combinations: proteins, amino acids, amides, amines, nitrates, etc. Vegetables contain between 1.0 and 5.5 % while in fruit nitrogen-containing substances are less than 1% in most cases.

Among nitrogen containing substances the most important are proteins; they have a colloidal structure and, by heating, their water solution above 50C an one-way reaction makes them insoluble. This behaviour has to be taken into account in heat processing of fruits and vegetables.

From a biological point of view vegetal proteins are less valuable then animal ones because in their composition all essential amino-acids are not present.


2.2.7 Vitamins

Vitamins are defined as organic materials which must be supplied to the human body in small amounts apart from the essential amino-acids or fatty acids.

Vitamins function as enzyme systems which facilitate the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats but there is growing evidence that their roles in maintaining health may extend yet further.

The vitamins are conveniently divided into two major groups, those that are fat-soluble and those that are water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. Their absorption by the body depends upon the normal absorption of fat from the diet. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and several members of the vitamin B complex.

Vitamin A or Retinol.

This vitamin is found as such only in animal materials - meat, milk, eggs and the like. Plants contain no vitamin A but contain its precursor, beta-carotene. Man needs either vitamin A or beta-carotene which he can easily convert to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found in the orange and yellow vegetables as well as the green leafy vegetables, mainly carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, spinach and kale.

A deficiency of vitamin A leads to night blindness, failure of normal bone and tooth development in the young and diseases of epithelial cells and membrane of the nose, throat and eyes which decrease the body's resistance to infection.

Vitamin C.

Vitamin C is the anti-scurvy vitamin. Lack of it causes fragile capillary walls, easy bleeding of the gums, loosening of teeth and bone joint diseases. It is necessary for the normal formation of the protein collagen, which is an important constituent of skin and connective tissue. Like vitamin E, vitamin C favours the absorption of iron.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is easily destroyed by oxidation especially at high temperatures and is the vitamin most easily lost during processing, storage and cooking.

Excellent sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and green peppers. Potatoes also are a fair source (although the content of vitamin C is relatively low) because we consume large quantities of potatoes.


2.2.8 Enzymes

Enzymes are biological catalysts that promote most of the biochemical reactions which occur in vegetable cells.

Some properties of enzymes important in fruit and vegetable technology are the following:

Enzymes have an optimal temperature - around +50C where their activity is at maximum. Heating beyond this optimal temperature deactivates the enzyme. Activity of each enzyme is also characterised by an optimal pH.

In fruit and vegetable storage and processing the most important roles are played by the enzymes classes of hydrolases (lipase, invertase, tannase, chlorophylase, amylase, cellulase) and oxidoreductases (peroxidase, tyrosinase, catalase, ascorbinase, polyphenoloxidase).


2.2.9 Turgidity and texture

The range of textures that are encountered in fresh and cooked vegetables and fruit is indeed great, and to a large extent can be explained in terms of changes in specific cellular components. Since plants tissues generally contain more than two-thirds water, the relationships between these components and water further determine textural differences.

Cell Turgidity. - Quite apart from other contributing factors, the state of turgidity, determined by osmotic forces, plays a paramount role in the texture of fruit and vegetables. The cell walls of plant tissues have varying degrees of elasticity and are largely permeable to water and ions as well as to small molecules.

The membranes of the living protoplast are semi-permeable, that is they allow passage of water but are selective with respect to transfer of dissolved and suspended materials.

The cell vacuoles contain most of the water in plant cells and sugars, acids, salts, amino acids, some water-soluble pigments and vitamins, and other low molecular weight constituents are dissolved in this water.

In the living plant, water taken up by the roots passes through the cell walls and membranes into the cytoplasm of the protoplasts and into the vacuoles to establish a state of osmotic equilibrium within the cells.

The osmotic pressure within the cell vacuoles and within the protoplasts pushes the protoplasts against the cell walls and causes them to stretch slightly in accordance with their elastic properties. This is the situation in the growing plant and the harvested live fruit or vegetable which is responsible for desired plumpness, succulence, and much of the crispness.

When plant tissues are damaged or killed by storage, freezing, cooking, or other causes, an important major change that results is denaturation of the proteins of cell membranes resulting in the loss of perm-selectivity. Without perm-selectivity the state of osmotic pressure in cell vacuoles and protoplasts cannot exist, and water and dissolved substances are free to diffuse out of the cells and leave the remaining tissue in a soft and wilted condition.

Other Factors Affecting Texture. The existence of a high degree of turgidity in live fruit and vegetables or whether a relative state of flabbiness develops from loss of osmotic pressure as well as final texture depends on several cell constituents.

Cellulose, Hemicellulose, and Lignin. Cell walls in young plants are very thin and are composed largely of cellulose. As the plant ages cell walls tend to thicken and become higher in hemicellulose and in lignin. These materials are fibrous and tough and are not significantly softened by cooking.

Pectic Substances. The complex polymers of sugar acid derivatives include pectin and closely related substances. The cement-like substance found especially in the middle lamella which helps hold plant cells to one another is a water-insoluble pectic substance.

On mild hydrolysis it yields water-soluble pectin which can form gels or viscous colloidal suspensions with sugar and acid. Certain water-soluble pectic substances also react with metal ions, particularly calcium, to form water-insoluble salts such as calcium pectates. The various pectic substances may influence texture of vegetables and fruits in several ways.

When vegetables or fruit are cooked, some of the water-insoluble pectic substance is hydrolysed into water-soluble pectin. This results in a degree of cell separation in the tissues and contributes to tenderness. Since many fruits and vegetables are somewhat acidic and contain sugars the soluble pectin also tends to form colloidal suspensions which will thicken the juice or pulp of these products.

Fruit and vegetables also contain a natural enzyme which can further hydrolyse pectin to the point where the pectin loses much of its gel forming property. This enzyme is known as pectin methyl esterase. Materials such as tomato juice or tomato paste will contain both pectin and pectin methyl esterase.

If freshly prepared tomato juice or paste is allowed to stand the original viscosity gradually decreases due to the action of pectin methyl esterase on pectin gel.

This can be prevented if the tomato products are quickly heated to a temperature of about 82C (180 F) to deactivate the pectin methyl esterase liberated from broken cells before it has a chance to hydrolyse the pectin. Such a treatment is commonly practiced in the manufacture of tomato juice products. This is known as the "hot-break process" and yields products of high viscosity.

In contrast, where low viscosity products are desired no heat is used and enzyme activity is allowed to proceed. This is "cold-break" process. After sufficient decrease in viscosity is achieved the product can be heat treated, as in canning, to preserve it for long term storage.

It is often also desirable to firm the texture of fruit and vegetables, especially when products are normally softened by processing. In this case advantage is taken of the reaction between soluble pectic substances and calcium ions which form calcium pectates. These calcium pectates are water insoluble and when they are produced within the tissues of fruit and vegetables they increase structural rigidity. Thus, it is common commercial practice to add low levels of calcium salts to tomatoes, apples, and other vegetables and fruits prior to canning or freezing.


2.2.10 Sources of colour and colour changes

In addition to a great range of textures, much of the interest that fruits and vegetables add to our diets is due to their delightful and variable colours. The pigments and colour precursors of fruit and vegetables occur for the most part in the cellular plastic inclusions such as the chloroplasts and other chromoplasts, and to a lesser extent dissolved in fat droplets or water within the cell protoplast and vacuoles.

These pigments are classified into four major groups which include the chlorophylls, carotenoids, anthocyanins, and anthoanthins. Pigments belonging to the latter two groups also are referred to as flavonoids, and include the tannins.

The Chlorophylls. The chlorophylls are contained mainly within the chloroplasts and have a primary role in the photosynthetic production of carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water. The bright green colour of leaves and other parts of plants is largely due to the oilsoluble chlorophylls, which in nature are bound to protein molecules in highly organised complexes.

When the plant cells are killed by ageing, processing, or cooking, the protein of these complexes is denatured and the chlorophyll may be released. Such chlorophyll is highly unstable and rapidly changes in colour to olive green and brown. This colour change is believed to be due to the conversion of chlorophyll to the compound pheophytin.

Conversion to pheophytin is favoured by acid pH but does not occur readily under alkaline conditions. For this reason peas, beans, spinach, and other green vegetables which tend to lose their bright green colours on heating can be largely protected against such colour changes by the addition of sodium bicarbonate or other alkali to the cooking or canning water.

However, this practice is not looked upon favourably nor used commercially because alkaline pH also has a softening effect on cellulose and vegetable texture and also destroys vitamin C and thiamin at cooking temperatures.

The Carotenoids. Pigments belonging to this group are fat-soluble and range in colour from yellow through orange to red. They often occur along with the chlorophylls in the chloroplasts, but also are present in other chromoplasts and may occur free in fat droplets. Important carotenoids include the orange carotenes of carrot, maize, apricot, peach, citrus fruits, and squash; the red lycopene of tomato, watermelon, and apricot; the yellow-orange xanthophyll of maize, peach, paprika and squash; and the yellow-orange crocetin of the spice saffron. These and other carotenoids seldom occur singly within plant cells.

A major importance of some of the carotenoids is their relationship to vitamin A. A molecule of orange beta-carotene is converted into two molecules of colourless vitamin A in the animal body. Other carotenoids like alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, and cryptoxanthin also are precursors of vitamin A, but because of minor differences in chemical structure one molecule of each of these yields only one molecule of vitamin A.

In food processing the carotenoids are fairly resistant to heat, changes in pH, and water leaching since they are fat-soluble. However, they are very sensitive to oxidation, which results in both colour loss and destruction of vitamin A activity.

The Flavonoids. Pigments and colour precursors belonging to this class are water-soluble and commonly are present in the juices of fruit and vegetables. The flavonoids include the purple, blue, and red anthocyanins of grapes, berries, plump, eggplant, and cherry; the yellow anthoxanthins of light coloured fruit and vegetables such as apple, onion, potato, and cauliflower, and the colourless catechins and leucoanthocyanins which are food tannins and are found in apples, grapes, tea, and other plant tissues. These colourless tannin compounds are easily converted to brown pigments upon reaction with metal ions.

Properties of the anthocyanins include a shifting of colours with pH. Thus many of the anthocyanins which are violet or blue in alkaline media become red upon addition of acid.

Cooking of beets with vinegar tends to shift the colour from a purplish red to a brighter red, while alkaline water can influence the colour of red fruits and vegetables toward violet and gray-blue.

The anthocyanins also tend toward the violet and blue hues upon reaction with metal ions, which is one reason for lacquering the inside of metal cans when the true colour of anthocyanin-containing fruits and vegetables is to be preserved.

The water-soluble property of anthocyanins also results in easy leaching of these pigments from cut fruit and vegetables during processing and cooking.

The yellow anthoxanthins also are pH sensitive tending toward a deeper yellow in alkaline media. Thus potatoes or apples become somewhat yellow when cooked in water with a pH of 8 or higher, which is common in many areas. Acidification of the water to pH 6 or lower favours a whiter colour.

The colourless tannin compounds upon reaction with metal ions form a range of dark coloured complexes which may be red, brown, green, grey, or black. The various shades of these coloured complexes depend upon the particular tannin, the specific metal ion, pH, concentration of the complex, and other factors not yet fully understood.

Water-soluble tannins appear in the juices squeezed from grapes, apples, and other fruits as well as the brews from extraction of tea and coffee. The colour and clarity of tea are influenced by the hardness and pH of the brewing water. Alkaline waters that contain calcium and magnesium favour the formation of dark brown tannin complexes which precipitate when the tea is cooled.

If acid in the form of lemon juice is added to such tea its colour lightens and the precipitate tends to dissolve. Iron from equipment or from pitted tin cans has caused a number of unexpected colours to develop in products containing tannins, such as coffee, cocoa and foods flavoured with these.

The tannins are also important because they have an astringency which influences flavour and contributes body to such beverages as tea, wine, apple cider, etc.

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