Quest for the Holy Grail
The quest for an improved French fry with lower acrylamide levels marches on. The second year of the National Fry Process Trials (NFPT) and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) Acrylamide Program will conclude with culinary testing of selected clones at the J.R. Simplot Company’s Caldwell facility this past December.
This fall representatives from five major French fry processors, McCain’s, Lamb Weston, Cavendish, Heinz and Simplot as well as researchers, breeders and other industry representatives met at the USDA/Agricultural Research Service in East Grand Forks, Minn., to evaluate and assess 88 different clones grown in four of five variety trials supported by the NFPT and the SCRI Programs.
Of the 81 clones from the last year’s trial, 54 were resubmitted for the second year with an additional 34 clones submitted for the first year of testing. Clones came from trial centers, Idaho, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.
With 88 clones from four states in the 2012 trials, that totaled 352 samples for visual evaluation during the field trials this fall.
Russet Burbank and Ranger Russet are the two varieties used for checks against the clones in the current trials. Each clone from each trial site is tested analyzed against a check from the Russet Burbank and the Ranger Russet.
The stated focus of the trials is to find clones that are lower in asparagine and produce lower acrylamide levels as French fries but that’s not the only goal.
“Obviously you’re going to have lower acrylamide clones,” said Rich Novy, research geneticist at the Aberdeen, Idaho USDA-ARS facility, “but you also need the agronomics as well as the necessary sensory attributes.”
“It really allows you the opportunity to do some super visual comparisons,” said David Parrish, CEO of AIS Consulting, LLC and a consultant for the USPB. “That just doesn’t happen very often where you have this opportunity to look at that much material across that big of a geography.”
The clones are evaluated on physical characteristics important to the French fry processing industry. Length and width ratio, size distribution profile, external visual defects are all taken into consideration.
Along with the visual inspections the clones are tested for sugars, storability, specific gravity, asparagine and acrylamide at the East Grand Forks facility.
In email correspondence, A.J. Bussan, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of horticulture and SCRI project director, said that many of the clones meet requirements for size, shape, sugar levels and acrylamide.
However the new clones must meet consumer attributes and have end product characteristics similar to current standards, including flavor and internal and external texture, said Bussan.
Bussan said that the trials have identified clones that meet raw quality needs and facilitate lowering of acrylamide. Unfortunately, researchers have not found many clones that meet the balance of the raw product requirements and they have almost no capacity to select clones for these characteristics on a wide scale.
At the end of the assessment a 15 lb. sample of each clone was shipped to the Simplot facility in Caldwell to be stored for the fry tests in December.
The five processors then vote on the top 30 clones they would like to see run through the Caldwell facility.
“The next step now is for an assessment of their processing attributres,” Novy said. “That’s going to be take care of in Caldwell. How well they fry up with color, you’re going to be looking at sensory as well as other attributes, texture, flavor, the whole shebang.”
“They do a whole host of tests,” Parrish said, “They look at things like how mealy is the French fry, what’s the color look like and how much does it bend. It’s quite a comprehensive testing.”
“Anything that would be recommended to the industry would have to be a variety that is an improvement over where we are currently positioned,” Parrish said. “We are looking for material that has lower levels of acrylamide or believed to have lower levels of acrylamide than some of the current industry standard varieties.”
Bussan identified other qualities researchers are looking for in the trials include clones that require less inputs, are more stress tolerant and more efficient in use of resources.
Parrish attributed the success of the program to date due to the five processing companies working together to reach a common goal. Parrish said that discussions at East Grand Forks centered on how to improve the entire process industry in meeting the new demands within the industry.
“It’s been quite phenomenal to watch these companies come together to do something that is so important , yet still compete,” Parrish said. “All these people coming together and working on a common goal. It’s really amazing.”
By Bill Schaefer