Alcohol May Improve Antioxidant Power of Strawberries

SCI - While exploring ways to help keep strawberries fresh during storage, researchers discovered that treating the berries with alcohol led to an increase in antioxidant capacity and free radical scavenging activity within the fruit. While this antioxidant boost helped the berries resist decay, the same compounds would also be expected to make the strawberries healthier to eat.

Dr Korakot Chanjirakul and colleagues at Kasetsart University in Thailand, in collaboration with scientists at the USDA, tested the berries after “marinating” them in ethanol (grain alcohol) for seven days, and found that the treatment improved the physiology of the fruit as measured by several different laboratory tests for antioxidant activity, including the ORAC test (Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, doi 10.1002/jsfa.2841).

Colored berry fruits like strawberries contain compounds known as polyphenols and anthocyanins. Consumption of these compounds has been linked to the prevention of diseases ranging from cancer to neurodegenerative disorders. They work by helping to mop up damaging free radicals produced naturally during a person’s normal metabolism.

Similar benefits of alcohol treatment was found with blackberries, which means that soaking in alcohol will likely improve the antioxidant value of a variety of berries (Society of Chemical Industry).

Editorial note - One of the these antioxidant tests used in the berry study was the well-known ORAC test, which gives values that allow for a rough comparison of the antioxidant power of different fruits and vegetables in a “test tube” setting, but does not compare their in vivo value inside the body. Still, it is one of the best comparison scales we have to date. It would be good if the researchers could specify whether the increase in berry ORAC values was the result of simply a higher concentration of the same polyphenols as found in the raw berries, or whether the alcohol extracts new or different polyphenols from the strawberries and blackberries (i.e. gives a different phytonutrient profile).

The results of this study are not too surprising, given the long history in the herbal industry of using alcohol-based extracts to pull out more phytochemicals from the herbs. A common technique that can be used at home with herbs is to perform a “hydroethanolic” extract, which is basically soaking herbs in something like vodka, which is said to increase their medicinal value. For cooks who experiment with fruit compotes or fermented fruits, this information might be useful. However, I am not a big promoter of the health value of alcohol itself, which I think is probably limited to only a modest cardiovascular benefit for men in the 45 to 65 year old age group, and to a mild to moderate increase in memory function in older ladies. This alcohol-berry study might help to promote the production of low-alcohol, high-polyphenol berry wines or drinks, which for some might be an attractive way of consuming more health-promoting anthocyanins with their meals without the risks of high alcohol intake - Dr. Z.

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