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Oregon State University agricultural research updates

FRESH FRUIT WITH FIZZ

Imagine biting into a juicy pear and experiencing a zinging, fizzy sensation. That’s Fizzy Fruit, a new technology that carbonates fresh fruit, developed in part by Oregon State University researchers at the Oregon Food Innovation Center in Portland.

A spoonful of Fizzy Fruit

Carbonated Fizzy Fruit is one of many commercialization projects from the Food Innovation Center. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

Fizzy fruit was discovered by accident when Galen Kaufman, a Texas neurobiologist, bit into a pear that he had stored in a cooler with dry ice. Kaufman’s taste buds tingled with a delightful fizz.

Being a scientist, Kaufman figured out that some of the dry ice in the cooler had sublimated, changing from a solid directly into carbon dioxide gas, and carbonated the fruit.

Kaufman liked the fizzy fruit so much that he decided to develop it into a commercial product. He applied for a U.S. patent for the intellectual concept of carbonated fruit. Then, he contacted OSU professor John Henry Wells, renowned expert in food packaging and storage at the Food Innovation Center Experiment Station, for help in developing a patentable process of carbonating fruit on a commercial scale.

OSU’s Qingyue Ling, the product development engineer for the Food Innovation Center, designed computer-controlled techniques for the manufacture of fizzy fruit.

“Think about a carbonated soft drink,” said Ling. “The drink has carbon dioxide gas dissolved in it. As the temperature is raised or the pressure is lowered, the gas is released as bubbles. The same thing happened to Kaufman’s fruit.”

The inventor and the OSU researchers envision that the Fizzy Fruit may encourage people to eat healthier diets by consuming more fruit. Ling foresees Fizzy Fruit as becoming a big hit with school children. The technology is applicable to apples, pears, strawberries, grapes, even watermelon.

This work is the first commercialization of a patent at the Food Innovation Center in Portland. This project is one of dozens at the center, jointly run by OSU and Oregon Department of Agriculture.

CORKS OR SCREW-TOPS? CAN YOU REALLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE?

Wine drinkers may turn up their well-cultured noses at fine wine sealed with synthetic corks or – gasp! – screw-tops, but a new research study has found that most wine drinkers can’t tell any difference in the taste of the wine.

Corked wine bottle

In a blind taste test conducted by Oregon State University researchers at the Food Innovation Center in Portland, wine drinkers couldn’t tell the difference in the taste of the same wine, whether bottled with natural cork, synthetic cork or screw-top stoppers.

However, a companion study by the same researchers found that wine consumers who are confronted with a choice of wine stoppers are much less likely to buy screw-top wine, considering it of inferior quality.

Clearly, the association of screw-tops with inexpensive wine will be a challenge for the industry to overcome, according to Emily Jorgensen, an OSU graduate student in food science and technology who ran the study.

Natural corks have been used to close wine bottles and jugs for centuries. But recent studies have shown that natural corks are more prone to failure than synthetic corks or screw-tops, so are less reliable for wine storage.

“Reports from industry indicate that from 3 to 20 percent of wines with natural corks have suffered from ‘cork taint,’ a fungal contamination of the cork that gives a moldy or wet cardboard flavor to even the finest vintage,” Jorgensen said. The wine industry is beginning to use synthetic cork and screw-tops to avoid potential contamination and other flavor problems associated with natural corks.

In the study, Jorgensen tested groups of regular wine consumers to see if they could sense differences in the taste, smell and appearance of the wines, without knowing how the bottle was sealed. She served identical wines – one white and one red – from bottles with each of three types of closures – natural cork, synthetic cork and screw-top.

Jorgensen’s results showed that consumers couldn’t make a distinction among the different types of closures.

In a second experiment using the same two wines, Jorgensen tested another group of consumers to see how knowing how the bottle was sealed might alter their perceptions about the wine.

Tasting the same chardonnay from bottles with three different types of stoppers, consumers indicated they were equally willing to purchase the wine with a natural or a synthetic cork and would pay the same price for either. However, they rated the wine from a screw-top bottle as lower quality, and indicated that they would be less willing to purchase it and were not willing to pay as much for it.

Tasting merlot, consumers indicated that they liked the wine with a natural cork more than the wines with either a synthetic cork or screw-top. And they were willing to pay more for it.

Results from Jorgensen’s study illustrate consumers’ perception that a natural cork lends wine a certain high quality that a screw-top or plastic cork just doesn’t muster.

Anna Marin, an OSU professor of food science, oversaw Jorgensen’s study. According to Marin, since many wine makers are changing their wine bottling to synthetic or screw-cap closures to better preserve their wines, they will have to make an effort to educate the public about the advantages of these new closures and the disadvantages of the traditional natural cork closure.

AMERICAN FOOD FIGHT

Lisa Herlinger wins award

Lisa Herlinger, a Portland entrepreneur, and her Ruby Jewel Ice Cream Sandwich Treats took top honors at the “American Food Fight–Portland Style” contest at the Food Innovation Center in November. Herlinger was congratulated by (left to right) OSU President Ed Ray, College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Thayne Dutson, and American Food Fight organizer Howie Rubin. She’ll receive a commercialization package worth $2,500 to work with Food Innovation Center experts to develop her product for the marketplace.

OREGON'S WEED WAR GOES ONLINE WITH WEEDMAPPER

The spread of noxious, non-native weeds costs Oregon millions of dollars annually in weed control and lost productivity. Now landowners are being called on to help in the war against weeds through an online weed information exchange called Weedmapper.

“The website provides Oregon landowners and land managers easy access to the latest information on weed infestations and a way to report new sightings of noxious weeds,” said Doug Johnson, a rangeland ecologist in Oregon State University’s Department of Rangeland Resources and leader of the Weedmapper project.

Weedmapper graphic

Weedy invaders such as Russian knapweed, Scotch broom and gorse displace native plants on forest and rangelands, damaging wildlife habitat and livestock grazing areas. The more widespread noxious weeds become, the greater the damage they cause. For example, tansy ragwort, a weed poisonous to livestock, is estimated to have caused economic losses of $5 million annually in Oregon for many years until weed control strategies began to reverse its spread in the late 1990s.

The Weedmapper database includes photographs and descriptions of weeds as well as maps showing the extent of known infestations and the potential for increased infestations. One of the most valuable components of the website is the report feature, which allows people to identify the specific location of a noxious weed sighting in degrees of latitude and longitude.

“The weed report form incorporated into Weedmapper was developed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture weed control program,” said Johnson. “Reports submitted via the website go directly to the ODA and are independently verified before the information is added to the statewide noxious weed database.”

With so many people and products moving in and out of Oregon, it’s difficult to keep noxious weeds out of the state, according to Tim Butler, manager of the ODA’s Noxious Weed Control Program. Early detection is the key to controlling the spread of weeds.

“Our hope is that the reporting tool in Weedmapper will generate citizen involvement in statewide control efforts,” said Butler. See it online at

Oregon Weedmapper.