The development of indigenous marula (sclerocarya birrea) fruit leather : effect of drying temperature and sugar concentration on the drying characteristics, physico-chemical and consumer sensory properties of marula fruit leathers.
Ndlovu, Phindile Faith.
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Fruits indigenous to African countries are highly recognised and valued by rural communities for food security purposes. An examples of such fruits include but not limited to marula fruits (Sclerocarya birrea), which is indigenous to many parts of Southern Africa. In some parts of the continent, the role and usefulness of indigenous fruit species still receives little attention in agricultural research. Amongst others, this results from the magnitude postharvest quality losses due to the high moisture content characteristic of these fruits and a lack of access to required postharvest infrastructure by small-scale farmers. The processing of high moisture content commodities offers a convenient way of preserving their quality. The main aim of this research was to develop fruit leathers from the indigenous marula fruits as means of quality preservation. The development of new products from indigenous fruit crops as a means of preserving the fruits quality (nutrients) has a potential of enabling farmers, particularly small-scale farmers, to diversify on their on-farm business and farming activities. It also has the potential of improving the nutrition security and economy of the rural communities. Marula fruit are normally processed and conserved into various product forms (e.g. jams, juice, flavoured water, sweets, essential oils, traditional beer and world exported beverages such as Amarula Cream) which are readily available in the market. The production of such products from the indigenous fruits involves different processing techniques and these techniques ranges from highly sophisticated processes to simple traditional ones. The choice of the processing technique used is dependent on the characteristics of the intended product. Drying is one of the techniques that have not been widely applied in the processing of indigenous fruits. The application of this technique offers the potential to produce healthy, nutritious and flavourful ready to eat snack from the indigenous fruits such as fruit energy bars and fruit rolls which can be accessible and available throughout the year. Very little information have been reported on product development of indigenous marula fruit in previous years. The study conducted independent drying experiments to evaluate the effects of different drying temperature (50, 60 and 70 °C) and different added sugar concentrations (0, 5 and 10% w/w) on the drying kinetics of the marula fruits pulp. Moisture loss from the fruits’ pulp and different drying models in explaining the heat and mass transfer processes and for predicting the drying behaviour of the fruit leathers during drying were assessed. The textural, colour and consumer sensory attributes of the dried fruit leathers were also evaluated. The moisture loss and drying behaviour of the marula fruit leathers were significantly (p ≤ 0.05) affected by the drying temperature and added sugar content. During the evaluation of the colour properties, the drying temperature and the added sugar content increased significantly (p ≤ 0.05) the colour of the fruit leathers. However, the colour properties of fruit leathers with high added sugar concentration for each drying temperature were significantly (p ≤ 0.05) reduced. The texture attributes of the marula fruit leather significantly (p ≤ 0.05) increased with drying temperature (50 and 60 °C) and sugar concentration (0, 5 and 10% w/w), but significantly decreased at 70 °C for 10% w/w treated fruit leathers. The consumer sensory evaluation was also conducted to assess the acceptability of the fruit leathers. In general, all fruit leathers were accepted by panellists, and this demonstrated that marula fruit leather would form an acceptable new product. The sensory analysis showed that the mostly liked and preferred fruit leathers by the panellists were the ones prepared at 50 °C with 10% w/w added sugar.