The EU TOM(ato) project undertaken by a consortium of European research organisation ?kickstarted with a €425 000 grant from Europe - suggests using the millions of tonnes of tomato waste as a natural food additive.
?We have for a long time known the nutritional benefits of eating tomatoes," said the research Commissioner this week. " This is an example of how technology can help enhance European citizens' quality of life and turn sustainable development into reality,?/i> he added.
Around 8.5 million tonnes of tomatoes are cultivated every year in Europe. Nearly 18 per cent (1.5 million tonnes) is sold directly to consumers and the rest is processed into foods, such as ketchup, pasta sauce and canned goods. But during processing, up to 40 per cent of the raw material ends up as residue, mainly skin and seeds.
Of the waste products, the oils, in particular, are highly valued for their unsaturated fat content, according to the Spanish research centre AZTI, which is participating in TOM along with ten other partners from the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and Portugal.
The project's main aim is to develop new food additives and extracts from tomato processing industry leftovers. Before the residue can be converted into a high-value nutritional compound suitable for use in health-promoting foodstuffs, the scientists found ways of removing impurities from the tomato sludge left after initial processing. Solvents have commonly been used for this, but they tend to be less effective and leave chemical traces.
Full findings from the research, co-ordinated by Peter Sijmons from the Dutch biotech company CatchMabs, are expected in 2005.