Why squeeze avocados when you can use Laser Doppler vibrometry?

By Mike Pomranz
May 07, 2020
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Food scientists must have cliques, right? Like, at the big food science conferences, the people who study spaghetti all hang out together, and the ones who conduct wine research are the cool crowd? If so, I can only imagine the true rock stars are the scientists working with avocados—especially when they strut in with news like this: A pair of researchers from Cranfield University in the United Kingdom has developed what’s being billed as a test that can “guarantee the perfect avocado.”

By better assessing the ripeness of avocados, this new test could potentially cut waste by up to 10 percent, according to the researchers. “[The Waste and Resources Action Programme’s] ‘Fruit and vegetable resource maps’ highlights over a third of avocados are lost at the grading and distribution stage, meaning there are significant improvements to be made in reducing losses,” Leon Terry—Director of Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield University, who co-authored the study with Research Fellow Sandra Landahl—told me via email. “We focused on avocados as they are the most difficult fruit to work on (we like a challenge), and customers are often dissatisfied when they buy ready-to-eat fruit that are not ripe.”

Credit: d3sign/Getty Images

The current testing system apparently requires a pneumatic device to push into the fruit; but the test in this new study utilizes nondestructive Laser Doppler vibrometry (LDV) which is able to measure the resonant frequency of the fruit with small vibrations. “Hard fruits create a higher frequency than soft fruits, so we calculated the perfect frequency for a ripe avocado and accurately measured this with the LDV test,” Terry said in the announcement. “Leaving the fruit undamaged is of great benefit and vastly reduces waste. The test we have developed could be extended to other fruits.”

The researchers also seem to think that applying this test to the avocado industry would be relatively straightforward. “We tested the accuracy of LDV on a real factory line, under lab conditions, and the method has real potential, giving accurate measures of ripeness without damaging fruit,” Landahl added. “If developed, a simple ‘traffic light’ system could sort the fruit into those that are ripe, for discard or for storage, helping industry tackle food waste at this point in the supply chain.”

Of course, adding new technology isn’t free, but as the researchers point out, avocados are already an expensive product, meaning that cutting waste could potentially have reciprocal financial benefits. “As co-lead of the Food Loss Network, we will be looking to develop the test further and take it from the laboratory and into distribution centers,” Terry told me. “The test will cost money—but if it saves substantial waste then it will pay for itself.”

Plus, think of the marketing possibilities: Who wouldn’t want an avocado that was “tested by lasers to insure perfection?"