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Managing the quality of processed fruits: the example of apricot halves

The raw materials concerned, their transformation processes and storage are likely to affect not only the nutritional quality but also the texture of canned fruits. A clearer understanding of the determinants of this quality, their evolution and the mechanisms in play enables the adjustment and review of production under a sectoral, more global and sustainable manner.

Quality of processed fruit
Updated on 08/23/2017
Published on 06/12/2017

With production reaching around 150,000 tonnes per year, France is the second largest producer of apricots in Europe (or 23% of production in 2015) after Italy. Apricots are appreciated for their nutritional qualities, and particularly their content in micronutrients that are beneficial to health (polyphenols and carotenoids).

From the problem of preserving apricots…

Because of their extremely short production windows (from 1 to 3 weeks), more than thirty varieties of apricot succeed each other during the summer months, which results in highly variable quality. And as apricots can only be kept for short periods of time, the volumes that cannot be consumed fresh are channelled towards processing as canned fruits, purées or juices, which induces a complex management of supplies for processing plants.

… to understanding how the quality of processed products develops

During the ANR ILLIAD project, the partner scientists sought to define a sustainable production system for the French apricot sector. They imagined a model orchard dedicated to the processed apricot sector. In this context, their aim was to understand determinants of quality and then identify markers for this quality in fresh fruits. Texture is the most important quality for canned apricots, so that the fruits will not break down in the finished product. Nutritional quality was also studied in order to understand the fate of micronutrients during processing and storage.

Fruit variety is a determinant parameter

Contrary to common preconceptions, the scientists demonstrated that the initial texture of the fresh product was not able to predict the quality of the finished product. A fresh apricot with firm flesh could completely break down after processing, or vice versa. The most important factor was the variety chosen. Out of the 18 varieties tested, those most suited to the cooking process were Vertige, Gaterie, Bergarouge, Hargrand and Candide. The degree of fruit ripeness was also crucial regarding the final texture of canned halves.
The scientists also sought to correlate biochemical data on the raw material with parameters for the texture and titratable acidity of fresh apricots, which appeared to be a good indicator for the texture of canned apricots. Studies under way at present seem to be confirming this hypothesis in the majority of varieties. 

The nutritional quality of canned apricot halves

Concerning the micronutrient content of canned fruits, and particularly their polyphenol levels, the situation was somewhat heterogeneous. Some classes, such as flavan-3-ol monomers, hydroxycinnamic acids, flavonols and anthocyanins will migrate into the syrup. Flavan-3-olpolymers, or procyanidins, the main components in apricots, will remain in the halves. Depending on the cooking process used (domestic or industrial), polyphenols will degrade or not. Optimising the duration and temperature of processing could be a lever to prevent this degradation.
As for carotenoids, they are not degraded by processing and remain in the product, which is logical in view of their hydrophobic nature. Nevertheless, storage appears to favour their degradation, for reasons that have not yet been fully elucidated.

SQPOV expertise in fruit quality

The knowledge acquired during this project could usefully be reinvested in projects designed to control quality issues linked to the presence of cubed apricot in compotes, yoghurts or fruit salads. Apart from this example, the laboratory can offer considerable expertise in the characterisation of fruits and vegetables, using either physical or biochemical methods or the development of high-throughput techniques, and in understanding the mechanisms which underlie finished product quality. Studies have already been performed on the tomato and cherry, in particular, and are under way in apples.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Carine LE BOURVELLEC (+334 32 72 25 35) Joint Research Unit for the Safety and Quality of Plant Products (UMR SQPOV), INRA Domaine Saint-Paul, Site Agroparc, 228 route de l'Aérodrome CS40509, 84914 AVIGNON CEDEX 9
  • Barbara GOUBLE (+334 32 72 25 36) Joint Research Unit for the Safety and Quality of Plant Products (UMR SQPOV), INRA Domaine Saint-Paul, Site Agroparc, 228 route de l'Aérodrome CS40509, 84914 AVIGNON CEDEX 9
Associated Division(s):
Science for Food and Bioproduct Engineering
Associated Centre(s):
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur


Initiatives locales ou localisées, innovantes pour une alimentation durable

Le développement de systèmes alimentaires durables est freiné par des contraintes techniques ou organisationnelles. Le projet ILLIAD visait à comprendre les conséquences de l’organisation des systèmes alimentaires sur leur durabilité, et à proposer différentes innovations dans les filières blé biologique, riz, pêche et abricot.
Ce projet d’une durée de 4 ans (2012-2016) a fédéré différents partenaires : INRA, ITAB, CIRAD, IAMM ; avec la participation de la SEFRA, SICA Centrex, CTIFL et le soutien de Terralia
Pour plus d’infos, consulter le site de l’ANR

Mécaniser la récolte d’abricots ?

The use of a machine originally designed to collect prunes, was able to demonstrate its effectiveness. © INRA

La main d’œuvre nécessaire à la récolte des abricots participe de 60 à 65% du coût total de la production de ce fruit, ce qui pénalise fortement la rentabilité de la filière. Toujours dans le cadre du projet ANR ILLIAD, la faisabilité de récoltes mécaniques a été testée dans l’optique de vergers dédiés pour les fruits transformés. Moyennant quelques adaptations, l’utilisation d’une machine initialement prévue pour ramasser les pruneaux, a pu démontrer son efficacité. De façon surprenante, la mécanisation semble possible pour la quasi-totalité des variétés, exceptées celles à gros calibre et de couleur pâle. Elle pourrait même être envisagée pour le frais et permettre de renforcer la compétitivité de la filière. Un guide technique a été rédigé à l’attention des producteurs.