If you ever wondered why carrots curl up as they age, a student has worked it out by conducting a lockdown experiment in his kitchen.
Now, he hopes the discovery will help manufacturers reduce food waste and keep the root vegetable in its prime for longer.
Carrots are one of the most universally loved foods, popular in school lunchboxes, and meals, and as an easy snack.
They’re easy to grow, harvest, and produce, but wastage is shockingly high.
Around 25 to 30 percent of this occurs prior to processing and packaging, due to deformities, mechanical damage, or infected sections.
Therefore, researchers from the University of Bath wanted to uncover “the secret science” of prepping the root vegetable, in the hopes of avoiding food waste and helping people make carrots last for as long as possible.
Mechanical Engineering student Nguyen Vo-Bui carried out the research in 2021 during the COVID-19 lockdown, meaning he had no access to labs.
Instead, he worked from his kitchen and analysed 100 Lancashire Nantes carrot halves, cut lengthways, to identify which geometrical and environmental factors have the most significant effect on their longevity.
Vo-Bui and his research team found that residual stresses and dehydration were the two key factors in carrots curling as they age.
He explained: “The starchy outer layer of the carrot, the cortex, is stiffer than the soft central vein, the vascular cylinder.
“When cut lengthways, the two carrot halves curl because the difference in stress becomes unbalanced.
“Dehydration leads to further loss of stiffness, further driving the curling effect.”
Dr. Elise Pegg, who oversaw the study, said that Vo-Bui’s findings provide a methodology to predict the deformation of cut root vegetables – something which will help manufacturers increase their edible lifespan.
“The study gives food producers a new mathematical tool that could be applied to the design of packaging and food handling processes, potentially reducing food waste,” she said.
“We’ve shown that manufacturers should handle carrots in cold, moist, airtight, and humidity-controlled environments.”
She added that the findings, published in the journal The Royal Society Open Science, could help other food industries too – as the procedure is likely to apply to other vegetables and plants.
Vo-Bui said that the most difficult part of his study was finding a way to conduct it without access to his university laboratories.
He had to take over his flat’s kitchen, find a suitcase capable of collecting the 30kg of carrots the experiment demanded, and then devise new ways to use the carrots after he had finished his study.
“Carrot cake, the Indian carrot dessert Gajar Ka Halwa, carrot pesto, and many other dishes kept my flatmates and I fed for several days,” he said.
“This was interesting research – applying mechanical principles to vegetables was surprising and fun.
“To now be in a position to have this work published in an academic journal and potentially be used by the food industry is really rewarding.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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