Lesson 41. BLANCHING

Module 5. Food processing equipments and unit operations

Lesson 41

41.1 Introduction

Blanching is used to destroy enzymatic activity in vegetable and some fruits prior to other processing like freezing or dehydration or canning or thermal processing. It is a pretreatment by mild heat for a specific time followed by rapid cooling or passing immediately to the next processing stage. The time and temperature combination varies from product to product, the condition and size of product. Generally the temperature varies from 88 to 99 ⁰ C. In some of the fruits and vegetables poly phenol oxydase enzyme is responsible for discoloration in presence of oxygen, hence it needs to be inactivated by blanching pretreatment, before futher processing of fruits and vegetables to maintain its original colour after processing.

41.2 Mechanism of Blanching

Plant cells are discrete membrane-bound structures contained within semirigid cell walls. The outer or cytoplasmic membrane acts as a skin, maintaining turgor pressure within the cell. Loss of turgor pressure leads to softening of the tissue. Within the cell are a number of organelles, including the nucleus, vacuole, chloroplasts, chromoplasts and mitochondria. This compartmentalisation is essential to the various biochemical and physical functions. Blanching causes cell death and physical and metabolic chaos within the cells. The heating effect leads to enzyme destruction as well as damage to the cytoplasmic and other membranes, which become permeable to water and solutes. An immediate effect is the loss of turgor pressure. Water and solutes may pass into and out of the cells, a major consequence being nutrient loss from the tissue. Also cell constituents, which had previously been compartmentalized in sub cellular organelles, become free to move and interact within the cell.

The following f actors are affecting blanching time:

  1. The type of fruit or vegetable.
  2. The size of the pieces of food.
  3. The blanching temperature and
  4. The method of heating

41.3 Purpose and Objective of Blanching

The purpose of blanching is to achieve several objectives.

  1. To soften the tissue to facilitate packaging.
  2. To avoid damage to the product.
  3. To eliminate air form the product.
  4. To preserve the natural colour.
  5. To destroy or retard certain undesirable enzymes.
  6. To help preserve natural flavour.

The major purpose of blanching is frequently to inactivate enzymes, which would otherwise lead to quality reduction in the processed product. For example, with frozen foods, deterioration could take place during any delay prior to processing, during freezing, during frozen storage or during subsequent thawing. Similar considerations apply to the processing, storage and rehydration of dehydrated foods. Enzyme inactivation prior to heat sterilization is less important as the severe processing will destroy any enzyme activity, but there may be

an appreciable time before the food is heated to sufficient temperature, so quality may be better maintained if enzymes are destroyed prior to heat sterilisation processes such as canning.

It is important to inactivate quality-changing enzymes, that is enzymes which will give rise to loss of colour or texture, production of off odours and flavours or breakdown of nutrients. Many such enzymes have been studied, including a range of peroxidases, catalases and lipoxygenases. Peroxidase and to a lesser extent catalase are frequently used as indicator enzymes to determine the effectiveness of blanching. Although other enzymes may be more important in terms of their quality-changing effect, peroxidase is chosen because it is extremely

easy to measure and it is the most heat resistant of the enzymes in question. More recent work indicates that complete inactivation of peroxidase may not be necessary and retention of a small percentage of the enzyme following blanching of some vegetables may be acceptable.

Blanching causes the removal of gases from plant tissues, especially intercellular gas. This is especially useful prior to canning where blanching helps achieve vacuum in the containers, preventing expansion of air during processing and hence reducing strain on the containers and the risk of misshapen cans and/or faulty seams. In addition, removing oxygen is useful in avoiding oxidation of the product and corrosion of the can. Removal of gases, along with the

removal of surface dust, has a further effect in brightening the colour of some products, especially green vegetables.

Shrinking and softening of the tissue is a further consequence of blanching. This is of benefit in terms of achieving filled weight into containers, so for example it may be possible to reduce the tin plate requirement in canning. It may also facilitate the filling of containers. It is important to control the time/temperature conditions to avoid overprocessing, leading to excessive loss of texture in some processed products. Calcium chloride addition to blanching water helps to maintain the texture of plant tissue through the formation of calcium pectate complexes. Some weight loss from the tissue is inevitable as both water and solutes are lost from the cells.

A further benefit is that blanching acts as a final cleaning and decontamination process. It also removes pesticide residues or radionuclides from the surface of vegetables, while toxic constituents naturally present (such as nitrites, nitrates and oxalate) are reduced by leaching. Very significant reductions in microorganism content can be achieved, which is useful in frozen or dried foods where surviving organisms can multiply on thawing or rehydration. It is also useful before heat sterilization if large numbers of microorganisms are present before processing.

41.4 Principles of Blanching

Blanching is achieved in hot water for a short period of time or in an atmosphere of steam. In water blanching, the product is moved through water usually maintained at a temperature between 88 and 99 oC. In steam blanching the product is carried on a belt through a steam chamber into which live steam is constantly injected. The steam chamber is hooded and equipped with exhaust and also a drain for the condensate. The time temperatures are regulated for each specific product to achieve the desired enzyme inactivation, colour preservation and other characteristics. As a guide, the operator utilizes either the catalase or the peroxidase tests to determine the adequacy of blanching. Currently the peroxide test is commonly used in industry. For the most part, a negative peroxidase test is necessary to prevent the development of undesirable characteristics in the finished product. Immediately after blanching, vegetables are quickly cooled, usually in cold water, which often serves as means to convey the product to the next operation. A rod type cylindrical reel connected to the discharge of blancher and equipped with water sprays also serves as an excellent cooling system.

41.5 Processing Conditions for Blanching

It is essential to control the processing conditions accurately to avoid loss of texture, weight, colour and nutrients. All water-soluble materials, including minerals, sugars, proteins and vitamins, can leach out of the tissue,leading to nutrient loss. In addition, some nutrient loss (especially ascorbic acid) occurs through thermal lability and, to a lesser extent, oxidation.

Ascorbic acid is the most commonly measured nutrient with respect to blanching, as it covers all eventualities, being water soluble and hence prone to leaching from cells, thermally labile, as well as being subject to enzymic breakdown by ascorbic acid oxidase during storage. Wide ranges of vitamin C breakdown are observed, depending on the raw material and the method and precise conditions of processing.

The aim is to minimize leaching and thermal breakdown while completely eliminating ascorbic acid oxidase activity, such that vitamin C losses in the product are restricted to a few percent. Generally steam blanching systems give rise to lower losses of nutrients than immersion systems, presumably because leaching effects are less important.

Blanching is an example of unsteady state heat transfer involving convective heat transfer from the blanching medium and conduction within the food piece. Mass transfer of material into and out of the tissue is also important. The precise blanching conditions (time and temperature) must be evaluated for the raw material and usually represent a balance between retaining the quality characteristics of the raw material and avoiding over-processing.

The following factors must be considered for deciding processing conditions of blanching:

1. Fruit or vegetable properties, especially thermal conductivity, which will be determined by type, cultivar, degree of maturity etc

2. Overall blanching effect required for the processed product, which could be expressed in many ways including: achieving a specified central temperature, achieving a specified level of peroxidase inactivation, retaining a specified proportion of vitamin C.

3. Size and shape of food pieces

4. Method of heating and temperature of blanching medium

Time/temperature combinations vary very widely for different foods and different processes and must be determined specifically for any situation. Holding times of 1–15 minutes at 70–100 ºC are normal.


41.6 Methods of Blanching

The two most widespread commercial methods of blanching involve passing food through an atmosphere of saturated steam or a bath of hot water. Both types of equipment are relatively simple and inexpensive. Microwave blanching is not yet used commercially on a large scale. There have been substantial developments to blanchers in recent years to reduce the energy consumption and also to reduce the loss of soluble components of foods, which reduces the volume and polluting potential of effluents and increases the yield of product.

Conventional steam blanching consists of conveying the material through an atmosphere of steam in a tunnel on a mesh belt. Uniformity of heating is often poor where food is unevenly distributed; and the cleaning effect on the food is limited.

However, the volumes of waste water are much lower than for water blanching. Fluidised bed designs and ‘individual quick blanching’ (a three-stage process in which vegetable pieces are heated rapidly in thin layers by steam), held in a deep bed to allow temperature equilibration, (followed by cooling in chilled air) may overcome the problems of nonuniform heating and lead to more efficient systems.

The two main conventional designs of hot water blancher are reel and pipe designs. In reel blanchers, the food enters a slowly rotating mesh drum which is partly submerged in hot water. The heating time is determined by the speed of rotation. In pipe blanchers, the food is in contact with hot water recirculating through a pipe. The residence time is determined by the length of the pipe and the velocity of the water. There is much scope for improving energy efficiency and recycling water in either steam or hot water systems. Blanching may be combined with peeling and cleaning operations to reduce costs.

Following the microwave heating, the vegetable material is subjected to blanching comprising heat treating in a current of hot air at temperature 100 to 150ºC. The heating is conducted in an environment which prevents loss of water from the vegetable material and this may readily achieved by introducing steam in to the oven.

41.7 Equipment for Blanching

a) Steam Blanchers

At its simplest a steam blancher consists of a mesh conveyor belt that carries food through a steam atmosphere as shown in the figure 41.2. The residence time of the food is controlled by the speed of the conveyor. In conventional steam blanching, there is often poor uniformity of heating in the multiple layers of food. To overcome this Individual Quick Blanching (IQB) was introduced which involves blanching in two stages. In the first stage food is heated in single layer to a sufficiently high temperature. In the second stage a deep bed of food is held for sufficient time to allow the temperature at the center of each piece to increase to that needed for enzyme inactivation.

b) Hot Water Blanchers

There are a number of different designs of blanchers each of which retains the food in hot water at 70 – 100 oC for a specific time and thus removes it to a dewatering-cooling section. A blancher cooler is shown in the figure 41.3. It has three sections: a pre-heating stage, a launching stage and a cooling stage. The food is preheated with water that is circulated through a heat exchanger. After blanching a second re-circulation system cools the food. The two systems pass water through the heat exchanger and this heats the pre-heat water and simultaneously cools the cooling water. A re-circulated water-steam mixture is used to blanch the food and final cooling is done by cold air. A counter-current water blancher is shown in the Fig. 41.3.



Last modified: Thursday, 27 September 2012, 7:22 AM