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The 'Producing added value from under-utilese tropical fruit crops with high commercial potential' (PAVUC) project aimed to add value to nine underutilised fruits of local commercial importance in three types of underdeveloped regions in Latin America (humid forest, dry areas, and tropical highland). The fruits were chosen for their commercial potential as biodiverse functional foods in the European market.

They are tropical highland blackberries (Rubus spp.), naranjilla (Solanum quitoense), and tree tomato (Solanum betacea) which are produced in the hillside regions of the Andes and Mexico; red pitahaya (Hylocereus spp.), berrycactus (Mirtillocactus spp.), and cashew apple (Anacardium occidentale), cultivated in the dry regions of Central America, northern Mexico, and Brazil; and, finally, camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia), açaí (Euterpe oleracea), and peach palm fruit (Bactris gasipaes), produced in the Amazon Basin and coastal humid regions of tropical America.

Four research centres from Latin America and four from Europe were involved in this project, which was coordinated by the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), France.

Knowledge of the nine underutilised species has been considerably enhanced since the PAVUC project began in 2006. Much information has been revealed about these species, from the fork to the mouth and beyond, including their composition, potential functional properties for human health and possible impact, their production potential, organisation for markets, processing of innovative products, and market expectations on both sides of the Atlantic.

In terms of composition, a database was completed, using parameters such as average contents of relevant phytochemicals in mature fruits, at different stages of maturity, during post-harvest storage, and for some processed products. Almost all nine fruits were found to constitute rich sources of molecules that would potentially benefit human health and which are usually scarce in Western food diets. Thus, their high potential for use as ingredients to increase the quality of processed food products was confirmed.

More specifically, phenol compounds were characterised for tropical highland blackberry grown in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ecuador; açai palm; tree tomato; naranjilla; camu-camu; and cashew apple. Carotenoids were identified in tree tomato, naranjilla, cashew apple and peach palm, while betacyanins were characterised in berrycactus and pitahaya. Additionally, the antioxidant capacity of all fruits was assessed, although often following different methods.

Moreover, a new method for assessing in vitro cellular antioxidant activity was developed specifically for PAVUC fruits. This was the first time for most of the fruits to have undergone such a complete characterisation. Results were therefore widely disseminated through scientific publications and meetings. In addition to the detailed characterisation of the agri-food chains, innovations were also proposed to stakeholders - co-partners of the PAVUC project - through technico-socioeconomic feasibility studies on the most promising products. Opportunities and constraints to the implementation of needed innovations have been identified and strong efforts made, using different communication tools, to increase dissemination of information among stakeholders. New business opportunities generated by the PAVUC project have emerged and are about to be realised. Two examples are the industrialisation of tropical highland blackberry and açaipalm berry, both processed as food ingredients in health beverages in Europe.

Based on the composition of the nine fruits, new products have been developed but, first, the fate of relevant phytochemicals during conventional processing procedures was studied. For example, the impact of heat treatment on phenols, carotenoids, and vitamin C has been studied, demonstrating significant differences between food matrixes. For their larger scientific impact, results of these works have been disseminated as articles or papers presented at international meetings.

From these results, some innovations have also been proposed to local industries that traditionally process fruits on a small scale. For example, removing oxygen sometimes significantly improves the preservation of phytochemicals of commercial interest.

As with all information generated by the PAVUC project, results were widely disseminated at different levels, starting from meetings or workshops with selected stakeholders, media briefings, flyers, oral presentations at national or international meetings, and scientific papers. The project's website makes detailed information of this executive summary available to a wider audience. The website itself will be maintained for at least two years after the project's end.