French fries

Researchers at the University of Otago are harnessing electro-pulse technology in order to turn the potato into a snack option that will not only be healthier, but also more environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

The Department of Food Science has started trials with a ‘Pulsed Electric Field’ processing machine. The machine, as the name suggests, uses microsecond-long pulses of electricity to disintegrate cell wall structures, making the potatoes softer overall but without reducing them to mash.

Professor Indrawati Oey said that the process results in a controlled release of sugar and a softer texture which not only makes potatoes easier to cut (an estimated 40 percent reduction in cutting force, meaning less food waste), but also means that they absorb less oil. As a non-heating process, it means that the nutritional content of the potato is preserved.

"Everyone eats potatoes," she said. "If you can reduce the waste, we can increase the efficiency. It has quite a big impact on business performance, but more importantly, for the consumer, you can also reduce oil. It is already enough for us to have the fat content in the potato chips itself because we use quite a lot, and we eat quite a lot."

"With the equipment now in New Zealand, we are excited to begin the industrial trial with the hope of proving the techniques and in time enabling New Zealand food industries to benefit from this new technology," said Oey.