Local experts are working on a new method to extract health-promoting molecules from agricultural and food waste for new products. 

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have trialed the use of greener solvents to collect compounds found in apple pomace known for their powerful antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-diabetes and anti-inflammatory properties.

Apple pomace (consisting of peels, pulp and seeds) is known to be rich in molecules known as ‘flavonoids’, which help regulate cellular activity and fight off free radicals.

However, because the health-promoting extracts found in apples have low solubility in water-based solutions, up until now they have been difficult to collect without using toxic organic solvents, which generate large amounts of pollutants.

To address this problem, the researchers investigated extraction using a new generation of green solvents known as Deep Eutectic Solvents (DES). 

These solvents consist of natural molecules, and provide a greener alternative to volatile and toxic organic solvents due to their superior extractability, negligible volatility and non-flammability. The solvents are also inexpensive.

The researchers developed an optimised approach using the green solvent to simultaneously collect and modify the health-promoting molecules pulled from apple pomace.

Compared with traditional solvents, the amount of bioactive compound pulled from apple pomace using the DES solvent was significantly higher than that collected using traditional solvents. 

Professor Vincent Bulone from the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine who supervised the research and co-wrote the paper, says they also found the antioxidant activity in the extracts was significantly higher than in samples obtained by conventional solvent extractions.

“We can conclude that DES is a green and tuneable alternative that not only efficiently collects powerful healthy molecules found in apple pomace, but also boosts the antioxidant activity of the extract,” Prof Bulone said. 

“Not only do DES provide a more environmentally friendly way to make better use of what would otherwise go to waste, but the collection method may provide a way to improve skincare, biopharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.”

The researchers say the same principle and approach could also be used to collect and modify other health-promoting molecules from other agricultural and food waste.

The study is accessible here.