In order to give this natural product additional value, CIATEJ is working on the analysis of its bioactive compounds with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial potential. In Mexico, about 110 thousand tons of walnuts are produced annually, which is the second exporting country at the global level; However, its general use is reduced to an ingredient in bakery, for the preparation of regional sweets and still in its infancy as a source of oil.
According to a report by the National Financial Institution for the Development of Agriculture, Rural Economy, Forestry and Fisheries (FND), as of July 2014, walnut production in Mexico has increased by 80% in the last 13 years; of which 52 thousand tons worth 259 million dollars were exported in 2013.
Considering that it is a fruit that can be given significant added value, organizations of pecan producers in Chihuahua (the state with the largest production in the country) turned to the Center for Research and Assistance in Technology and Design of the State of Jalisco (CIATEJ) of the National Science Council and technology (Conacyt), a study to diversify its use.
dr. Nohemí Reyes Vázquez, researcher in the CIATEJ Northeast unit, is responsible for the project Physico-chemical and functional characterization of pecan oil and shell from varieties grown in Chihuahua and Nuevo León, which aims to find alternatives for comprehensive use, which includes the development of extraction processes and separation. He explained that they are currently in the phase of characterizing walnuts, carrying out processes of extraction and separation of bioactive compounds with state-of-the-art technology.
Solvent extraction methods are traditionally used, while CIATEJ researchers use treatments with enzymeultrasound or microwaves that allow them to obtain a higher yield of metabolites without damaging them.
“Walnuts are small yields, so we hope to get the biggest ones that will retain their bioactive qualities, because what we want to get are polyphenolic compounds that have already been identified and have nutraceutical, cosmeceutical and pharmaceutical properties,” he said.
With research in biotechnology and fermentation processes, as well as technology, preservation and food safety, Dr. Reyes Vázquez pointed out that the research is at an early stage and that for its development they are taking advantage of the high-end equipment they have to isolate compounds, evaluate them in terms of yield and characterize them in terms of composition and application.
“With tests on cell models, we want to work with anti-inflammatory activities, with more sophisticated models to find other applications than traditional ones, such as antioxidants in food or as antimicrobials,” he indicated.
The researcher claims that in the process of placing the nuts on the market, the shell is omitted, which is equivalent to 45 percent of its weight, while the spent pastes are not used in the oil extraction processes, hence the interest in adding added value to it. dried fruit grown in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Durango and Nuevo León.
And, he said, oil-free paste can be used as a functional ingredient, because it contains fiber and protein in large quantities. As for peeling, it contains numerous phytochemicals with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial properties, colors, aromas, etc., with applications in the food industry, but also has cosmetic and dermatological applications.
dr. Reyes Vázquez says that the extraction and separation process they plan to implement will be innovative, as they intend to patent it and are working to develop it using specialized equipment using enzymatic methods as well as microwave or ultrasound treatments.
“We’re practically starting the project and we’re right in the walnut harvest season, so we’re collecting samples from Chihuahua and Nuevo León and we’ll try to do that in Coahuila. Our first job will be to identify the main components in the shells and the walnut itself, and we’ll try to do it with oil”, he concluded.