Sugarcane juice, a refreshing drink on a hot summer afternoon, is not only delicious but also nutritious. Cultivated across various parts of Southeast Asia for several years, the juice has been used to treat several ailments by Ayurveda practitioners. It is extracted by crushing the stalk, which is a part of the plant that is packed with nutrients.
According to studies, the juice accommodates phytonutrients, antioxidants, Vitamin C & B which are beneficial for treating illnesses such as inflammations, urinary tract infections and jaundice. However, after extraction, sugarcane juice has a shelf-life of less than a day, owing to biological processes like microbial fermentation.
While there are thermal treatments to extend the shelf-life of sugarcane juice, these methods interfere with the taste and aroma. This limits its long-term storage and widespread marketing.
Addressing this, Chirasmita Panigrahi (27), a research scholar from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, has come up with a solution to extend the shelf life of sugarcane juice without using heat or chemicals.
“Using a two-step process, I have developed a solution to store sugarcane juice for up to 12 weeks under refrigerated conditions. In the process, the juice does not lose its taste, aroma, or colour,” says Chirasmita in an interview with The Better India.
Three years of research
As part of her PhD research study for the Department of Agricultural and Food Engineering, in 2017, Chirasmita began her research on developing a technology to extend the shelf life of sugarcane juice.
In her first round of trials, she used an IIT-Kharagpur patented technology known as ultrafiltration or membrane filtration. The technique was developed by the Chemical Engineering lab to extend the shelf-life of coconut water up to 18 weeks.
“In this process, the bacterial content in the juice can be removed without the use of preservatives. However, after undergoing the filtration, within a few days, the sugarcane juice started browning, owing to the presence of phenols and enzyme reaction,” says Chirasmita.
After further research for another year, she decided to add another process, ozonization, after the ultrafiltration of the juice.
“In this step, the juice is exposed to ozone gas, which acts as a disinfectant. It reacts with compounds in the juice and renders them inactive which prevents browning,” says Chirasmita, adding that the final product was packaged in an aseptic environment to prevent contamination.
Extended shelf life
Finally, Chirasmita conducted storage studies to understand how long the juice can be preserved under refrigerated conditions.
“The juice was placed in cold storage and monitored regularly. The results of the study showed that the combination of membrane filtration and ozone treatment technology slowed down fermentation and browning. There was a reduction in bacteria levels, yeast and mould levels, and the results showed 85% inactivation of enzymes,” says Chirasmita, adding that the juice could be stored up to 12 weeks without any alteration in its properties.
In March 2021, the technology, which is yet to be patented, was selected for the National Meritorious Invention Awards 2020 by the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC), Government of India.