Coconut production increases and decreases depending on the season. When there is glut, profits go down. At such times, processes for making preservable coconut products like coconut chips can help.
To create crisp and sweet coconut chips, coconut flakes are usually mixed with a sugar solution. Sugar pulls out some water from the coconut flakes by osmosis. The remaining water content is removed by drying. This reduces the chances of fungi and bacterial growth on the chips.
But then, refined sugar only adds empty calories. Jaggery, on the other hand, has more minerals and vitamins. Can we swap sugar with jaggery to make healthier coconut chips?
Researchers from Bhopal and Kerala collaborated to investigate.
To prepare jaggery-infused coconut chips, the team de-husked and de-shelled mature coconuts. They removed the brown layer, testa, and sliced the coconuts into equal pieces. To optimise thickness, the researchers made batches of coconut slices with varying thicknesses.
“Slices about 0.54 millimetres thick work best. Thinner slices break during processing. And thicker slices are difficult to dehydrate and may become leathery rather than crisp”, says M. Pravitha, ICAR-Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Bhopal.
The slices were steamed for a while to arrest enzyme activity. Then the team submerged them into aqueous solutions of salt, vanilla essence and varying concentrations of jaggery.
“For best results, use about 46 degree Brix aqueous jaggery. It will remove water from coconut slices by osmosis and make it easier to dehydrate them”, says M.R. Manikantan, ICAR-Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, Kerala.
The researchers dried the chips using a tray dryer at an air velocity of two metres per second. They varied the temperatures for drying were from 50 to 70-degree Celsius. The team constantly checked the weight of the chips to understand the rate of moisture loss.
“We found that 66-degree Celsius made drying faster and more efficient”, says V. Ajesh Kumar, ICAR-Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Bhopal.
Thirty panelists compared crispness, taste and overall acceptance in jaggery-infused and sugar-based chips.
“The rating was similar. But coconut jaggery chips are more nutritious and cheaper”, says R. Pandiselvam, ICAR- Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, Kerala.
“The value-added coconut product could provide coconut cultivators with additional income and promote jaggery production among sugarcane cultivators”, adds Shameena Beegum, ICAR- Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, Kerala.
Dhempe College of Arts and Science, Goa
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