Using ultrafiltration membranes, a team of researchers from France and Costa Rica have successfully chemically engineered the extraction of ellagitannins — a class of hydrolyzable tannins that are rich in antioxidants — from blackberry juice. Their innovation could see the introduction of another important natural ingredient into the food chain – especially functional foods designed to improve health, according to The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).

Ellagitannins are relatively rare in foods, but are found in some fruits like blackberries and other rubus fruits. They have antioxidant properties and are potentially beneficial to public health, but minimal research has been undertaken to extract them efficiently and economically.

Commenting on the research, IChemE Chief Executive Dr. David Brown said, “Society continues to be challenged by preventable issues such as rising cancer rates. Education and encouraging people to lead more active lifestyles and nutritionally balanced diets are just some of the solutions. Producing food which is inherently healthier is another option to improve public health."

Guidance from the World Health Organization recommends eating a minimum of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

However, many millions of people across the world regularly miss their nutritional targets prompting researchers to look at alternative ways to extract and introduce important vitamins, minerals and other naturally occurring chemical compounds – such as ellagitannins – to fortify and enrich daily diets.

“The more research we can undertake to identify and extract important ingredients such as ellagitannins on a large scale, the greater the opportunities we have to introduce healthier foods for populations as a whole and address health inequalities,” Brown said.