Delivering sweet and natural solutions for the problems caused by citrus greening
KerryDigest Fast Facts:
- Citrus greening is devastating the global orange juice crop.
- Affected fruit is safe to eat, but bitter.
- A number of challenges are present when restoring sweetness, including flavor inconsistencies between crops and labelling requirements.
- Through more than a decade of work to combat the effects of citrus greening, scientists at Kerry’s Citrus Center of Excellence in Lakeland, Florida, have crafted innovative solutions to deliver great-tasting orange juice to customers and consumers.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:
The average consumer isn’t aware that citrus greening is devastating the global orange juice crop, including North America’s biggest suppliers—Florida and Brazil. But the underdeveloped fruit that results from the disease—which is also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease—is a big concern within the food and beverage industry.
Estimates suggest that the insect-transmitted bacterium has reached almost all major orange producers around Florida and it’s on the move in several other orange-producing states and countries too, putting the whole industry at risk. While fruit affected by citrus greening is safe to eat, it is bitter, and restoring its original sweetness isn’t straightforward due to labelling requirements and the erratic effect of the disease on flavor ratios.
Scientists at Kerry’s Citrus Center of Excellence in Lakeland, Florida, have been working on solutions since the disease was discovered in North America, more than a dozen years ago. Here’s how we’re overcoming the biggest challenges to deliver great tasting orange juice to our customers and their consumers.
The problem: Consumers want 100% orange juice.
The solution: Make orange restoration aroma keys solely from orange oils.
There are a number of ways to add sweetness back into orange juice affected by citrus greening, but only one will allow manufacturers to retain “100% orange juice” claims. “In the U.S. and throughout Europe and many other countries, all of the flavor that goes back into 100% orange juice must come from an orange,” says Ton Mesters, Vice President of Business Development and a 30-year veteran of the citrus industry. “We make 100% orange restoration aromas, or ‘add-backs,’ for orange juice. Because we’re not allowed to add sugar to juice, we impart sweetness—and reduce bitterness—through flavor derived solely from natural orange oil.”
The problem: Orange oil quality can differ dramatically.
The solution: Process oils internally for greater control.
Like orange juice, orange oil differs greatly by crop. While all tend to include the same flavor compounds—ethyl butyrate, d-limonene, decanal and nootkatone, to name a few—the ratio of each can dramatically alter flavor and aroma. “We buy our orange oil raw materials directly from the processors of the juice itself,” says Jeff Johnson, PhD, Product Director and a citrus flavorist who specializes in add-backs. “Rather than resell the product we receive, we concentrate and fractionate the oils then recombine them into flavor keys with functional properties such as enhancing orange impact or masking bitterness.” In doing so, we provide total solutions to our juice customers.
The problem: Sweetness ratios change by crop.
The solution: Create custom flavor key formulations in-house.
“Orange juice no longer tastes how it did even 5 years ago,” says Mesters. “Now it’s often watery and tastes unripe.” Correcting this can feel like a game of cat and mouse. Just as one sweetness-adding solution is devised, the disease progresses, further harming the fruit and rendering current solutions less effective. To resolve this, Johnson and his peers will create new restoration aroma flavor keys for customers, sometimes several times a year. “I work closely with our customers’ research and development teams to find out what they need,” Johnson says. For example, some recent batches of orange juice we’ve worked with have had three to five times the normal level of bitterness-causing limonin, thanks to citrus greening. We can adapt our formulations to temper those effects.
The problem: Solutions need to be shelf stable.
The solution: Invest in technology to increase product longevity.
“For Valencia oranges, production occurs only a couple of months a year,” says Mesters. “Most juice sits in storage for at least a few months, and over that time it slowly degrades and loses even more flavor.” One way to help restore that flavor is through adding back restoration aromas in such a way that it tastes closer to the original fresh juice. With this goal in mind, we recently acquired state-of-the-art production equipment that allows us to remove unstable components from the oils, especially those components that may contribute to off-notes from acid degradation and oxidation. These processed oils are hydrocarbon-free, which means they have excellent stability against degradation and oxidation, thus significantly improving the shelf-life of orange juice. The new equipment has also allowed us to substantially increase our efficiency when producing these specialty oils, which allows us to deliver products to our customers on an even shorter timeline.
The problem: Research on citrus greening is limited.
The solution: Add an in-house research division.
Our active research program helps juice companies react to and get ahead of citrus greening. We collaborate with customers, doing regular testing and reformulating to ensure the solutions we provide are the perfect match. In order to know exactly what to expect of the disease, our teams of scientists and flavorists—many of whom have decades of experience in citrus--aren’t restricted to the lab. “I’ve gone into groves and picked fresh fruit—both healthy fruit and that which has been negatively affected by disease—to get a handle, scientifically, on what was being changed,” says Johnson. “Our all-encompassing process leads to early discoveries which can provide good direction on what to do with our orange restoration aroma flavor keys.” This multifaceted approach is what Johnson calls “the art of flavor creation.”
If citrus greening is negatively effecting your products, we can help. To learn more about our custom solutions, proprietary research and innovative technologies, contact Kerry.