The small, bite-size allure of baby carrots have made them a staple in households across the United States, as consumers seek convenient ways to add fresh produce into daily meal plans. The sculpted, round cut-and-peeled vegetables are made from carrots specifically bred over time by growers to be very long, small in diameter and contain a sweet, crunchy flavor.
The leftover remains of the carrot have historically been turned to compost or animal feed. Yet, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have ramped up efforts to reduce food waste, academics and industry professionals alike are seeking additional uses for the discarded bi-products of foods across the spectrum of production.
This is how we are going to feed a growing population.
— Ali Duval
Cal Poly Food Science Associate Professor Samir Amin P.h.D., is at the forefront of such research, seeking innovative ways to use the discarded nutrients from carrot production. Students are working with Amin to find uses from two carrot waste streams: pomace, which results from the carrot juice extraction process; and mash, the waste produced from peeling and shaping larger carrots into baby carrots or medallions.
Amin said that consumer trends will continue to favor convenience. “People enjoy the ease of buying precut vegetables and being able to cook them and still feel like they have made a home-cooked meal without doing all of the time-consuming prep work,” he said.
"Given consumer preference for ease, there is a lot of opportunity to reduce food waste,” said Amin, who has a specialized background in culinary arts and food science. “Not only is there a lot of potential for the nutrients that are currently discarded to be used in other ways, there is also potential to reuse much of the water. And in California, there is always a need to find ways to reclaim water.”
Graduate student Ali Duval, 23, the first College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences student to receive the USDA National Needs Fellowship in Food Waste, is pursuing ways to use the nutrients that remain in carrot mash. The bright orange mush, which looks much like a pureed carrot, is rich in carotenoids and fiber. Duval, under the direction of Amin, is working with animal science Professor Ike Kang to use the mash to potentially increase the nutritional properties in beef patties. It also offers key functional properties that may enhance the sensory properties of beef patties. “This is how we are going to feed a growing population,” Duval said. “We are throwing away all these nutrients that we can use in fighting that fight. This has been an eye-opening experience — everything we are doing here at Cal Poly is practical in the industry today.”
New uses for discarded food products expand beyond culinary creativity. Recent Cal Poly food science graduate Catalina Ramirez (’18) dedicated her senior project to researching ways to make paper out of carrot pomace — using its natural properties to bind with nanofibers and cationic starch to form paper.
Ramirez, 27, worked with Amin and Associate Professor Joongmin Shin in the Industrial Technology and Packaging Area in the Orfalea College of Business to transform dried carrot pomace by blending with water and binding agents to make paper. To do so, Ramirez carefully poured the blend over a mesh screen, allowing the water to drain out. Another screen was then placed on top, and more water was pressed out using a sponge. The fibrous network that was left over was then placed between sheets of cloth and dried for several days — resulting in an orange-tinted paper-like product.
“It was exciting to see that to see that making paper from carrots is possible," Ramirez said. “The pa-per that we made did not perform similarly to commercially produced paper, however, it demonstrates the potential for its application as paper exists. To get something that is closer to commercial-grade paper would require more treatments to the carrot pomace, but it’s a promising start.”
Ramirez is applying to graduate school at Cal Poly, hoping to pursue further avenues of food product development. “When food is wasted, it is not only the waste of something that could have been a meal to feed someone, but it is also a loss in the time, energy and capital that it takes to produce it,” she said. “If we can find a method to reduce food waste, it can help reduce our carbon footprint.”
Amin said that the possibilities are endless, including making a plant-based bowl out of carrot mash for frozen meals or even replacing the plastic bags that baby carrots are packaged in with a product made from carrot waste. “When I worked in the food manufacturing industry, I saw the waste and was shocked by it,” Amin said. “The expense was also high. I walk through the grocery store and see all this pro-duce cut and pre-diced and see the potential. We are working with carrots now, but it can be applied to other types of vegetables too.”
Cal Poly has ambitious plans to accelerate food innovation, and food safety is a critical component of that. New state-of-the-art food safety laboratories and programs to meet the world’s growing demand for food production and to train highly skilled individuals to address food safety challenges across the food chain are being developed now. This year the university plans to break ground on a more than $100 million Science and Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex, which will include food safety teaching labs, a sensory analysis lab, a culinary teaching lab, a food safety research lab, and a teaching and research instrumentation lab.
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