Monday, September 27, 2010


Ethyl alcohol is one of the most effective disinfectant, being able to destroy most pathogens at relatively less concentrations. Dependence of medical fraternity on alcohol to achieve reliable sterility in hospital environment is considered crucial in saving precious lives during day to day patient management activities. To be effective the minimum alcohol concentration must be about 70% by volume. One of the limitations of alcohol is that it is not very effective against gram negative bacteria and spores of fungi and molds. Gram positive microorganisms lack the outer membrane and rely solely on peptidoglycan as the cell wall to protect them from the environment and there fore they are susceptible to the action of alcohol which damages the plasma membrane of bacterial cells. The reported practice of using spirits to preserve seasonal fruits is some thing evolved locally in some places as it does not find a place under the technological options available to classical food scientists. But concept wise it makes sense as spirits generally contain about 40% alcohol by volume and combined with the sugar and acidity in fruits the resulting cocktail can be a formidable "hurdle" technology system for fruit preservation.

But there is another, easier way: boozy fruit. There are many incarnations but the basic premise is the same — simply mix fruit and sugar with enough hard spirit to keep the fruit well soused, and let it sit. You can sip the liquid as a cordial and eat the sweet, spiked fruit over ice cream or cake. Apart from freezing, it is about the simplest preserving method there is. And not surprisingly, it's lately become somewhat of a trend among the legion of D.I.Y. canners, locavores and fervent gardeners looking to make the most of seasonal produce. For Amy Pennington, a professional gardener in Seattle and the author of "The Urban Pantry" (Skipstone, 2010), using booze to preserve fruit is just one more "branch in the preservation tree." "There's drying, salting, canning and using alcohol, which kills bacteria, meaning you don't need to futz around with creating an anaerobic environment," she said, adding that preserving with alcohol is the "lowest rung of entry for beginning canning enthusiasts" because it's hard to mess up. She's used the technique to preserve raspberries in vodka, which she plans to churn into sorbet, and greengage plums in brandy, to bake into an upside-down gingerbread cake as soon as they are ready — in, oh, about three months.

How far this practice can be acceptable or economically feasible for industry is not certain, especially in a country like India where spirits are often taboo for many besides being expensive. Since fruits are preserved in chunks format in presence of concentrated sugar solution formed from the water present in the spirit, the end product will have alcoholic flavor and some mild intoxicating "effect". Probably this could limit the end use of the product in only a few products. Also to be reckoned with is the excise regulations which can be a considerable constraint in using alcoholic products by the food industry.


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