As the litchi season kicks in and you start seeing carts overflowing with these juicy red fruits at street corners, here’s some food for thought — India will soon be able to export the fruit abundantly and the large Indian community living in the US and Europe will be able to enjoy the fruit.
You can thank scientists at the food technology division (FTD) of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Trombay, who have successfully completed research to increase its shelf life and kill all insects, pests and parasites in the fruit using a process known as irradiation.
Irradiation, which uses gamma rays, electron beams or x-rays to kill pests, is mandatory for a fruit to be exported to countries such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Litchi is the second fruit to be irradiated in India. Six years ago, the BARC irradiated the mango.
“Litchi is a highly perishable fruit… Besides, it has pests that need to be eliminated to meet quarantine regulations of the importing countries,” said A.K. Sharma, head of FTD.
“Irradiating it will open doors for exports in US and Europe,” said K.K. Kumar, director, National Litchi Research Centre, Muzaffarpur.
A team of nine scientists worked through two harvest seasons, from March to June in 2008 and 2009, with two litchi varieties.
Litchis packed in polythene bags were exposed to gamma radiation and stored at 4 deg C, making them stay fresh for up to 28 days. Normally, their shelf life is a week.
FTD’s paper titled ‘Quality profile of litchi cultivars from India and effect of radiation processing’ was published in the April online issue of two international journals — Radiation Physics & Chemistry and ScienceDirect.