Pascal to Your Health
Blaise Pascal joins Louis Pasteur among the ranks of creation scientists who have improved the safety and nutrition of our food. We all know about pasteurization, the process of eliminating germs by gentle heating, but have you heard of pascalization? It’s “a century-old food preservation technology, finding a new life amid 21st century concerns about food safety and nutrition,” reported Science Daily. The process “more than doubles the levels of certain healthful natural antioxidants in fruit.” Pascalization will give new meaning to the term “fresh squeezed”.
Pascal was an early pioneer of the effects of pressure on liquids. Pneumatic pumps, used widely in modern machinery, come from his work. The pascalization technique (also called high-pressure processing, or HPP) involves “subjecting food to 40,000-80,000 pounds of pressure per square inch for about 15 minutes,” Science Daily said. “That’s about five times the pressure that an African elephant would exert if it stood on a postage stamp.” It causes no harm to the fruit, though, because the pressure is distributed evenly—just as pressure in the deep sea causes no harm to fish.
Carmen Hernandez-Brenes, Ph.D., reported to the American Chemical Society results of her experiments with HPP on fruit. “HHP processing increased the concentration of total carotenoids in avocado and papaya by more than 50 percent,” the article said. “Individual members of this healthful family of chemicals increased by up to 513 percent,” although “For reasons not yet clear, no increases occurred in the mango.”
Why does it work? The article concludes,
Their findings also support the possibility that the increases occur as a self-defense mechanism in fruit tissue. Hernandez-Brenes and collaborators detected viable genetic material called RNA after high-pressure treatment, and further work is underway to provide evidence that cells in the fruit had shifted into high gear to make more antioxidants to cope with the stress from HPP.
This seems to suggest that epigenetic effects tune the production of antioxidants in the genome to deal with environmental changes. The extra antioxidants are only there potentially – in DNA code – but are brought to actuality by influences outside the genome. High pressure turns on the high-gear production of these defensive molecules.
It sounds like more experimentation will be required to figure out which foods respond to HPP and by how much, whether there are side effects, and how theory matches up to observation. Perhaps some day fruit processing plants will include pascalization chambers to enrich the beneficial substances in our fruit. If so, Pascal would surely have been delighted to find that his work on pressure can benefit human health.
Be sure to read our online biographies of Blaise Pascal and Louis Pasteur, two God-fearing scientists from different centuries who sought the glory of God and the improvement of human life in their research.