Turning avocado waste into a versatile functional food ingredientTurning avocado waste into a versatile functional food ingredient
Here’s how a New Zealand-based startup is turning process-grade avocados, which are largely wasted, into a functional ingredient suitable for a range of food and beverage applications.
October 10, 2023
At a Glance
- OVĀVO utilizes upcycled avocados to create an avocado powder, which has an 18-month shelf life.
- The powder demonstrates various functional benefits, as seen in company trials, including improved texture and mouthfeel.
- The company is exploring the use of avocado skin and seed for nutraceuticals and natural food preservatives.
New Zealand produces about 2% of the global supply of avocados, according to New Zealand Avocado. About 10% to 15% of those are considered process grade, and never hit grocery retailers. That’s where OVĀVO comes in.
Nestled between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean at the top of New Zealand’s northern island are some of the country’s largest avocado orchards. Beneath the orchards is a natural water aquifer.
“Avocado is obviously thirsty, but we get a lot of rainfall from the sky,” Andrew Vivian, CEO and founder of OVĀVO, explained. “And we supplement the final 20% with this water from this natural aquifer. It’s a beautiful part of the world to grow avocados.”
Half of the avocados produced in New Zealand are distributed domestically, and 40% are exported, according to the Ministry of Māori Development. The remaining avocados, between 10% to 15% of the country’s total crop, are set aside for processing.
“One of the challenges of growing avocados is that some of the fruit doesn’t look that pretty for supermarkets, whether it’s size or skin blemishes or sunburn,” Vivian said.
The avocados that don’t make it to stores go to oil manufacturers, he continued, “who squeeze the flesh of the avocado to death for the oil, the pulp is then discarded and thrown out with all the rest of the skin. Then, obviously, all the pulp, skin and the stone go to the landfill.”
That’s when Vivian set out to understand “the science of avocado” and how the fruit could be used in a way that’s scalable, sustainable and commercially viable.
“Everyone knows that avocados are intrinsically fickle,” he said. “You cut them open, and within hours, they start browning.”
Freeze drying presented a solution. Freeze drying is a “very gentle” technique, according to Vivian, that involves freezing and evaporating the fruit’s water vapor.
“The freeze-drying process is the best way to preserve all the organoleptic characteristics of the avocado and all the nutritional goodness and nutrients,” Vivian explained. “It’s pretty much avocado without water.”
Two tablespoons of the powder is equivalent to one avocado. The powder is 70% fat, retaining the monounsaturated fats of the fresh fruit. Amplifying its potential in the food and beverage sector is its 18-month ambient shelf life.
To trial the powder in various applications, OVĀVO teamed up with the food technology department at Massey University, a leading food technology university in New Zealand.
“We’ve been really excited by how well this has worked and also some of the sort of functional benefits behind [the powder],” Vivian said. For example, the high fat content of the powder improved the melting point of an ice cream product formulated by the team.
Another functional benefit of the avocado powder is improved texture and mouthfeel, attributed to the naturally creamy and rich texture of avocados. “We are seeing that coming through very low addition levels,” Vivian said. “Typically, anywhere between 1.5% to 5% addition to these foods is giving it that beautiful, rich creaminess, as well as all of the nutritional goodness.”
The team also utilized OVĀVO as a plant-based butter replacement. In one trial, they replaced half of the butter in a product with a small amount of OVĀVO.
“OVĀVO’s got a fifth of the saturated fat that that butter does,” Vivian said, “but you are getting this beautiful mouthfeel. You’re getting a softer, chewier texture, a better color and a longer shelf life.”
Other categories ripe with avocado opportunity and cited by Vivian include bakery, snacking and desserts. Some bakery applications that use the company’s avocado powder are cookies, muffins, cakes, bread, bagels and scones. Some potential applications in snacks include bars, snack balls, clusters, crackers and brownies.
“We really haven’t had anything that’s failed, in terms of the applications that we’ve tried,” Vivian said.
Beyond the flesh, the brand is working on putting the skin and the seed of the avocado to use, as well. The R&D team is in the process of completing in vitro and in vivo trails on the potential anti-inflammatory properties of the seed for use in nutraceuticals. They’re also using the skin to develop an antioxidant extract that can be used as a natural preservative in food and beverage applications.
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