Ancestral foods: raw materials for biodegradable packaging - Magda Ivone Pinzón
Magda Ivonne

Ancestral foods: raw materials for biodegradable packaging - Magda Ivone Pinzón

Latin American and Caribbean Association of Food Science and Technology (ALACCTA)


Good afternoon for everyone. For the main table, a very special greeting; a very excellent table, with very diverse people, but all contributing a lot; I do not know whether to say that “it’s good that I’ve played last” or “it’s very difficult to reach higher than my colleagues who preceded me.”

My lecture is called: Ancestral foods: raw materials for biodegradable packaging; but initially I want to thank CUMIPAZ for the invitation, on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Association of Food Science and Technology, for the invitation. Originally, our president, Dr. Jairo Romero, also from Colombia, should have come, but he is currently in Argentina in another congress. October, as it is the month of food, is the month of the food congresses, so we are everywhere; next week we are in Valparaiso in another congress, last week was in Cartagena, and so we are always full of food congresses in the month of October.

Well, then I am going to tell you a little bit of what we have been working on for a long time in our university; and that we are very interested in that it is not just another job, that it stays on the shelves of the university, that it is something that can be brought to reality.

Well, then I am going to tell you a little bit about what we have been working for a long time in our university; and that we are very interested in that it is not just another job, that it stays on the shelves of the university, but that it is something that can be brought to reality.

We have been talking with my colleagues, for example with the governor, it can be a very interesting topic, with other Colombian and Guatemalan colleagues, because this topic can be very interesting, as Dr. Vera also told us, to educate the child since childhood in a good diet. Without further ado, I will continue.

So we are going to talk about ancestral foods, a little about post-harvest, its importance, and then we will focus here on the fourth range, where we will apply those ancestral foods and we will see how we are going to apply them as coverings that are going to be the current theme.

Ancestral foods

Many are the ancestral foods, all ⏤we would say⏤, but at this moment they are the ones we see here, they are the ones we have been using, they give us starch, they are generators of starch, which is the raw material with which we are developing our coatings and biodegradable packaging.

So, for example, we use tubers, hydrocolloids and fruits. As tubers: cassava, arracacha, potatoes and other tubers, as all this list that I will allow myself to read because it is very important, because it is the rescue of all these ancestral tubers that we must bring back to our food.

In fact, in Colombia, our chefs in gourmet cuisine are putting them on the plates, as a main course. Farmers in some of our areas are already growing them again; for example, the potato, they are growing the potato of all colors, the maralfalfa, the bore, the chuguas, the ibias, the cubios, arracacha, yam, rubas, sweet potato, the mashua, the añú, the oca, the olluco, the blue potato, the camotilla, the murú, the quehuillo and many others (that you, governor, should know more of the names than myself) but that you have to remove them, you have to rescue them again.

In an area of Boyacá, they have already held fairs to rescue the ancestral recipes, they have also made exchanges so that the seeds are not lost; so then they have made the union between the farmers who did not know each other before, so now they are exchanging; and they no longer only know what their neighbor is cultivating, but the neighbor gave him what he cultivates and in turn there was an exchange of species. They have a… what we would call a germplasm bank, but that it is simply the rescue and the persistence of all these seeds so that many of them are not lost.

I was reading a document and, of all these tubers, when the study started there were 9 and at the end of the topic there were 49. From the fair, from the exchange, they managed to show that they were not only 9 (between chuguas, ibias and cubios, I think they were those 3 nothing more), and of 9 that they had found initially, in the end they had 49 to exchange and multiply.

That rescue of all that ancestral tradition is very important. I remember eating at home - what was called “el cocido”, “el cocido sabanero” or “cocido boyacense”, and it was a mixture of chuguas, ibias, cubios, beans, peas, cob, pumpkin, potato, cassava, and that was a very big and caloric lunch, because it was precisely for cold regions like those of Boyacá, like those of Nariño; because these are very rich, very caloric tubers, so that is why they are rich in starches too.

And the fruits, the only fruit is that of bananas, because we a have very high variety of banana fruit in Colombia; we have 148 acceptations or varieties of bananas for a variety of uses. Then each one has different characteristics in terms of its starch content and in terms of the quality of the starch. Then it turns out to be a raw material, also very important for the production of starch, which is the basis for obtaining polymeric matrices for these containers or packaging or biodegradable coatings.

Historical review

The cassava was handled by esculenta. The oldest evidence of cassava cultivation comes from archaeological data, which was cultivated in Peru since 4000 years and was one of the first domesticated crops in Latin America.

Here we see a sculpture (I saw it), in the Museum of Lima there is a sculpture, in ceramic, of cassavas.

The Mayan culture also reports 1400 years ago in the Jewel of Cerén, in El Salvador, the cassava is shown as a very caloric Mesoamerican food supplement. And here we see how they cultivated it and how they did these ⏤let us say⏤ cassava arepas or cassava circles as well.

The arracacia is another one of our products that generates a lot of starch; it is also known as arracache, criollo celery (in northern Colombia it is known as criollo celery), arracacha, virraca, white carrot, or manioc sauce. It is one of the oldest and most cultivated Andean plants in the pre-Inca period, whose domestication preceded the potato and corn (that is, it is much older than potatoes and corn); and is currently cultivated along the Andes mountain range, from Venezuela to northern Chile and northwestern Argentina.

In Colombia we have a germplasm bank that holds Corpoica and is in the highest part of the Cordillera Central, in a municipality called Cajamarca, which is the world's first producer of white, yellow and purple arracacia (the ones we see here).

This is a video that I found, I do not know what it said but it spoke of the arracacia; the translation is below and I did not know the language in which it was spoken, and I did not have time to show it here to my fellow governor to see if he could identify the language to see, because it told something about the arracacia.

The banana, the paradisiacal muse, is also known as banana, cambur, guineo; there are ⏤what I was telling you⏤ about 148 plantain diversities; it is an ancestral fruit known by the South American Indians long before the discovery of America; it seems to come from Asia and Africa although other authors insist that it is native to America.

When I was preparing this lecture I read that in the verses of Ulysses, of The Odyssey, there is already talk of the banana, but it was another banana, but it was also like a fruit of paradise (that’s why, I thought: that’s why the scientific name is paradisiacal muse, a fruit of paradise).

Well, and here the ullucus, they are highly colorful ⏤look at them⏤, there are ten varieties of different colors. It is known as ullucus (Quechua ulluku), melloco (in Ecuador), ulluco (in Colombia), ruba (in Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina), and in a few regions of southern Ecuador like olluco, smooth potato or simply smooth.

What happens? Then we saw the raw material to make some coatings.

On the other hand, what are we going to cover? We are going to coat fruits and vegetables to preserve them. The loss is currently ⏤and we already spoke about it⏤ about 40, 60%; at four o'clock in the morning, all the central stockpiling plants of our countries lose between 40 and 60% of the vegetable raw material that is entering. So, if we managed to protect and transform it from crops, or put it in some way that we can take it to the supermarkets, those such high losses would be diminished, such high losses that there are… at four in the morning we are dumping tons, 40% of all the product that goes into the supply centers, in fruits and vegetables.

And why these postharvest losses? There are many reasons, here are some: an inadequate collection (well, beyond those of the harvest)... Before the harvest there are other losses, but at the time of harvest, some are: inexperience, lack of control in the crop monitoring, low training of operators, no rigorous monitoring of maturity indices, lack of observation in the field and contrast with data collected.

There is a lot of information on the topics of losses in harvest, at the point of harvest and post-harvest, these are some of them, but mainly (due to the experience that I have seen in my regions) lack of education, of going to the field to teach them or make them reach the person who is harvesting the right information; SENA already does it in my country (the National Apprenticeship Service) does job training for harvesters, but there is still a lot to do.

And these are the maturity indices for good agricultural practices, which must be followed; then, there we have them: physical, visual, chemical, physiological, calculations and others; and so the losses would be lower and we would get a higher percentage of our crops to the markets.

Then, the post-harvest handling should be done in the crop, in the storage center, in storage, in transport. What for? To maintain the quality of the product. They are always living beings, they are always living beings, even when we pack them in a package they are still alive, they generate added value and opportunities in the market. We must also reduce, so that there is no inappropriate post-harvest handling, we must reduce the losses of the product; there may be high costs and low profitability due to inappropriate management, losses in the markets, low competitiveness.

Fruits and vegetables are highly perishable products, why?, they breathe, perspire, produce ethylene, have many ripening processes; then, what happens? those processes must be stopped or mitigated; then one of the methods is through the coating with biodegradable materials, not with plastics as is done so far (we will go into that topic).

The foods are classified according to their conservation, in first, second and third range. The first range is fresh, the second range is the canned ones that we know, the third range is frozen by the IQF like berries and vegetables, the mixture of cut vegetables; that then they are cut and frozen individually, and they maintain all the characteristics, after thawing they do not lose the texture nor the form.

The fourth one we're going to talk about right now, I jumped into the fifth range. The fifth range are these products that it is nothing but to get them heated but they are all ready; for example, we have here: steamed potatoes, with garlic, parsley, paprika, herbs, onions, tortilla; these products simply have been packed, ready to solve the problem for people who live in large cities, who have little time to cook or who no longer want to cook, but have another lifestyle (do not want to wash, peel nor cut, cook very little, and rather serve their guests or their friends).

And the sixth range, which are already processed, textured products, for example: the avocado, we can have it in the form of pulp or in pieces, ready to use it, they no longer resemble the original product at all; and here are other products that also do not look like the original product, for example, the tomato to decorate some dishes, in pastries or in hotels (in the HORECA line: hotel, pastry and catering).

The fourth range, then, is the one I want to talk a little more about: meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, which are kept in trays or in bags and are ready for direct consumption. It changes in this line… replacing these packaging with biodegradable packaging would be - it is something very interesting, because we are going to reduce the use of plastics (which are from fossils) for other bioplastics, which are biodegradable.

Here are the different forms of fruits in the fourth range, for example, a fruit completely peeled and packed, that this is not a non-renewable plastic, but a renewable plastic; in fact, we are already doing it in our laboratory, we already covered it and I am going to do a training in a plant that is in Cauca, in the University of Cauca, where they are already making bioplastics, they have the texturing plant cassava starch base, but we’ll still want to do it based on plantain starch, which in my region is much more abundant.

Fruits packed in their juice; so instead of this polystyrene, we want to put plates of cassava fiber or banana fiber, so that… and the top part also be a bioplastic of banana or cassava or arracacha or ullucus or any of these biodegradable.

Well, all these are examples, and who are the consumers? the big industry, the distributors, the restaurants and the institutional ones, the HORECA sector that is a sector… Who came here to serve us? A sector that is called the sector of catering. Many times they need to have everything ready for it to be nothing but distribute 500 lunches in less than twenty minutes, and for that they need to have the food ready; and one way to have it ready and without having to do any preparation is to coat it with biodegradable coatings instead of using chemicals.

And these are the advantages they have (or no advantages). Current developments are aimed at applying non-caloric technologies for the conservation of fresh fruits and vegetables: ultraviolet, high hydrostatic pressures, irradiation or edible coating.

Why are the fourth range demanded? I had already mentioned them. In response to this demand from the industry, technologies with minimal processing packaging have been developed; fresh fruits and vegetables, cut, subjected to processes of low intensity and that maintain their nutritional and beneficial health characteristics.

They are demanded by nutrition, by health, by time and are innocuous.

And I want to show you how it is… The coatings, the story is that they come from China, from the 12th century until our days when alginates, carrageenans, chitosan, etc. are used, they are materials that come… they are natural, they will be incorporated into a matrix that will be made with starch, and they will be coated and dried between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius to then preserve the vegetable product once coated and dry for long periods of time… (or not for long) for a longer time, at low temperature.

Why? Because there is a small atmosphere here, that is modified, where there is a lower permeability to oxygen and water vapor, and then the product will slow down its ripening and senescence processes, just as there will be a barrier to the light that delays oxidative processes; and it is composed of a polymer matrix, which are these ancestral starches, or they can also be of animal or microbial origin; plasticizers, which are always glycerol and some antimicrobial, antioxidant, stabilizing or biosensing principles.

Here are all the biopolymers that can be used and the functional properties of these coatings, which can be sensory because they maintain - they are transparent and protect the product; barrier properties, mechanical properties, hygienic properties, require a simple technology for its preparation, the components must not produce environmental pollution, are low cost and have adequate surface properties (to stick to any surface of fruits).

Here we see what kind of products can be used, they are all natural, and these coatings have all the qualities.

Finally, we have the smart coatings; then, for example, these pears have sensors that tell me when I can consume it to eat it fresh, because I want it to be crispy, that I can perceive that sensory characteristic; or that has lost a little bit of firmness, whether it is ready to be cut or that it is definitely for pulp or to discard it.

The same goes for the meat. And here are other sensors of time, temperature, humidity, these Ombu, which is a patent of a German company, made it mainly for Swiss chicken, from when the chicken was in good condition until it was already bad. And here is another biosensor for when the product no longer has oxygen or when the product has oxygen.

What do I mean by this? That all these sensors can be included in the bio-packaging and we no longer have to use plastic, fossil plastic packaging, which will increase my… This morning we heard that the amount of plastic is impressive, we already see how - the videos that in the Pacific Ocean there is a plastic island as big as Colombia, where the Humboldt currents cross, they accumulated there, it is terrible, that… well, for me that is awful, and then that has given me more strength to continue working on this issue of bio-recovering and bio-packaging.

This one is great, because this smart label is for meat; then when the product is already deteriorated a bar comes out and they can not register it in the register, then they can not buy it, then one is not going to take something that will do wrong, to the house, but rather it stayed at the supermarket.

And well, these are some results, more advances (in which I can place some sensors and some antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, antimicrobials) of this new technology, which are nanoemulsions or nanoparticles; it is simply a smaller form of me having my… the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, but in a way that is available slowly; it is a technology that is already used in medicine; some pills are released, the active ingredients, slowly in the body; something similar would happen here in the bioplastic, which would be released slowly.

We can also put some biosensors of PH changes. In fact we are finding out how we can do it with a few extracts of blackberry; the blackberry is sensitive… when you add milk to the juice of blackberry, it becomes another color, right?, the blackberry is red and it turns blue with milk; that change is what we want to use, because it is a very subtle change in a very small PH range, so we want to use it.

The nanoemulsions, all this will be available to you; then… extraction of collagen, physical, rheological and structural properties. All this is the part, let us say, that we have already done in the laboratory to reach everything else, the physical, chemical, microbiological and optical properties that are done to all these particles (here we see them), all of these analysis; and this is what I would leave here at the table for…

Short and medium term perspective of the use of biodegradable coatings and packaging

Work with the communities in the territories. That is first. Why? Because first of all we are going to protect the food so that from the same crop they leave with their added value, protected and that there is the least post-harvest loss.

Use ancestral crops and traditional methods. We extract the starches with the traditional methods that FAO has, we take them out of the FAO; in fact, we went to CIAT to learn (with an official that also publishes for FAO) how it was extracted in a traditional way, because the sun is very important for starches; it is not the same when we let dry in the sun than when we dry on the stove, then it must be dried in the sun.

Self-sufficiency and commercialization of the communities. Fair market, HORECA market also (hospitality, catering and catering), institutional market ⏤it would be included in the catering⏤, the big industry.

And, very important, the harmony between man, the environment, with sustainable development and preservation of the life of Mother Earth, the well-being and happiness of the human being.

That would be what should be left, because this would contribute from the perspective of us from the field. In our fields we are running out of people who do them… so they can stay.

And I really liked finding the word… they translate it as happiness instead of well-being;  I love the word happiness better than the word well-being, because it is both translations.

There are two articles that we are publishing, they are submitted in two journals and this is the bibliography, and many thanks.

This is the group… I do not do this, this is a group of young people, both professors and undergraduate and masters students, who have done so for a long time; there are others who have already become doctors, who have already returned, who are in other places; a lot of people have also been formed in my group, thank God; and then again to tell them that I come in the name of ALACCTA and that I work in the University of Quindío, that I am there if they ever need anything and also to visit the Colombian Coffee Axis which is very beautiful. I will be waiting for you all there.

Thank you very much.