Refrigeration technologies are helping Taiwanese fruit farmers to cope with overproduction problems and are opening up new possibilities for businesses in a country well known for its delicious fruits.
Following last year’s bumper lychee season, the Council of Agriculture worked with trading companies to sell refrigerated lychees across Southeast Asia, Wang Yi-ting, an assistant researcher at the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute said.
A total of 50 tonnes of lychees were eventually sold to both Singapore and Malaysia which helped ease the problem of overproduction, Wang said in an interview.
“The lychees flew off the shelves the first day they arrived at stores,” Wang said.
She added that cold storage technology research does not involve antiseptics, but instead relies on the regulation of temperature to maintain fruits’ freshness and appearance.
“The future aim of Taiwan’s agriculture is not only to achieve good taste, but also safety,” Wang said.
However, she admitted that the technology has not been that widely adopted because it requires the maintenance of an entire “cold storage chain,” from harvesting and packaging to loading, customs clearance and selling.
Companies need to be willing to invest in the new technology and change their old methods, Wang said.
In addition, she said the institute’s efforts to develop new varieties of lychee could help Taiwan gain a competitive edge in the frozen tropical fruit market.
So far, the institute has developed at least one new variety of lychee suitable for freezing, Wang said, adding that not all lychee varieties can be frozen.
“The texture of some lychee varieties change after they thaw out,” Wang said.
She said that with the development of new varieties, the lychee-growing season could be extended from four to six weeks to four months.
Few people know more about freezing fruit than Eagle Lu, chairman of BinGo-C, a Taiwanese fresh fruit ice cream company. Lu, who established BinGo-C in 2010, said many companies are put off investing in frozen fruit technology because of the high costs involved in its implementation.
Lu, who grew up in a farming family, said he can sympathize with farmers and remembers watching his father harvest sand pears and “speechlessly looking up to the sky with tears in his eyes” whenever a typhoon wrecked the harvest.
Overproduction can be just as bad because large numbers of people are needed to bring in the harvest, which raises costs, he said.
Lu’s firm, which specializes in selling ice cream made with frozen fruit, uses high-tech methods to clean the fruits in dust-free rooms which are then frozen to minus-35oC and cut into blocks to be spread on ice cream.
Lu said that the texture of the fruits does not change, despite the elaborate process they undergo.
“It’s like frozen bluefin tuna: It still tastes good after it is taken out of the refrigerator,” he said.