Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have come up with an all-natural food stabilizer derived from durian seeds, according to FoodBev. The thorny fruit, renowned for its unpleasant smell, is popular in Asia.
While the seeds are typically tossed out after the fruit is eaten, the scientists, through a patented technique, removed thick gum from the seeds and found it could support probiotics and be used as a food stabilizer, FoodBev reported. Compared with commercial food stabilizers, the durian seed gum was 20% more effective in extending the lifespan of powder-based probiotics.
"The majority of consumer food contains food stabilizers, which are indispensable to ensure that various ingredients that do not mix well can gel harmoniously. What we have done is to use something we often ignore when eating durians — its seeds — to produce a 100% natural food stabilizer that can even keep our gut system healthy," said William Chen, professor and director of the university's food science and technology program.
These research findings hold promise for applications in a number of areas — natural food stabilizers, probiotic beverages and enhanced sustainability, since durian seeds could be diverted from the waste stream. In addition, food stabilizers made from durian seeds would be plant-based, and therefore acceptable for vegans, vegetarians and others trying to keep animal-based stabilizers such as gelatin out of their diet.
Despite its off-putting odor, consumption of durian fruit has been increasing, with China becoming a major import market. In 2016, China was said to have imported 48% of Thailand’s production and 73% of Malaysia’s, and Asian populations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. have also helped boost consumption. This results in hundreds of millions of durian seeds being thrown away, so new uses could be an important way to reduce that waste.
According to Food Ingredients First, both gelatin and gum arabic, which is made from the acacia tree, are often used to stabilize products such as soft candy and sweeteners to provide a uniform texture and combine ingredients that would otherwise separate.
Chen said the three-year research project was prompted by climate challenges to future food production. Upcycling food byproducts could help overcome them. Climate change is also threatening acacia tree harvests, so finding alternative and more sustainable sources of stabilizers is important.
The probiotics market is also not expected to slow down. In recent years, the gut-friendly bacteria has made an appearance in products ranging from yogurt to baked goods to tea. According to MarketsandMarkets, probiotics are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7%, reaching a market value of $69.3 billion by 2023.
There could be numerous advantages to these research findings if they can be commercialized. According to statistics reported in Food Navigator, China's Ministry of Commerce estimates the market in that country to be worth the equivalent of $22.3 million, and many new durian products are flooding Asian markets. These applications, cost benefits and waste diversion aspects would all be assets in the future.