Lycopene is a carotenoid beneficial for our health thanks to its antioxidant and anti-tumor capabilities. How much lycopene can we find in tomato purees available on the market?
Today, nutrition draws our attention to concepts such as food safety, product traceability, the presence of food allergens, etc. All is summarized in the labels that we see applied to the products. Unfortunately, on a label, it is not possible to explain the importance of some elements that the product contains and that can become useful over time.
We, at Caronte Consulting, have chosen to analyze tomato puree through a special magnifying glass. The tomato puree is a product of wide spread and, therefore, able to greatly affect our health. In particular, we have chosen to focus our attention on lycopene, a fantastic element, the heritage of tomato, which helps us to keep many diseases under control.
Recent scientific studies have shown that lycopene is extremely beneficial for our health: in recent years its role in the prevention of tumors of the digestive system, of prostate cancer, in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and much more has been widely highlighted. .
If we were able to identify lycopene during the tomato processing process, perhaps managing to determine its concentration, the canneries could benefit enormously!
In this article, we want to essentially respond to two main questions:
Is it possible to identify the level of lycopene contained in the tomato puree online?
Is it true that the tomato concentrate has a major presence of lycopene than the tomato puree?
What is the tomato?
The scientific name of the tomato plant is Solanum lycopersicum (C. Linneo, 1753), and its meaning is:
– Solanum, from Latin “sólor” = I comfort, relief;
– lycopersicum, from Greek “lýkos” = wolf and “pérsicum” = fishing, meaning fishing the wolves.
The fruit of the tomato plant is a fleshy berry, whose size is a varietal characteristic but can also be influenced by environmental conditions and cultivation techniques. The increase in weight of the berry is inversely proportional to the number of berries present on the plant (less tomatoes are on the plant and the larger they become.)
The tomato has a high water content, a low sugar content and the fibers (cellulose and hemicellulose) are concentrated in the skin and seeds. In the pulp are present those organic acids (especially citric acid and malic acid) that determine its characteristic flavor.
Figure 1. The presence of lycopene in the tomato is influenced by the variety, the degree of ripening, the environment where it is cultivated and from the cultivation technique. These variables influence the color of the ripened fruit.
The tomato provides all water-soluble vitamins and is an excellent source of vitamin C. Only one medium-sized tomato can provide about 40% of the 80 mg of vitamin C that an adult man should take every day, thus facilitating the iron absorption and contributing to the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells in the bone marrow. Furthermore, it is an excellent source of B vitamins (B1, B2 and B6), which are able to promote cell turnover and oxygenation.
Carotenoids are a group of pigments that owe their name to carotene, an orange-yellow substance found for the first time in the common carrot. The pigment of carotenoids ranges from yellow to violet and are widespread in nature: they have been isolated from plants, algae, bacteria and some animal organisms. Animals, including humans, are not able to synthesize these compounds and must take them through plants.
Carotenoids are responsible for the red color of tomatoes (lycopene), the orange color of carrots (β-carotene) and maize (zeaxanthin), the yellow color of saffron (crocetine), etc. These pigments are never visible in the unripe fruits because they are formed during the maturation process.
The tomato contains a lot of provitamin A in the form of β-carotene, one of the carotenoids that contributes to the color of tomato: a single tomato weighing 100 g can provide up to 15% of the amount of β-carotene that should be taken every day.
In the tomato, there is also the presence of another carotenoid with incredible properties: lycopene.
Lycopene (C40H56) is the most common carotenoid pigment in the tomatoes and gives it its characteristic red color. Its presence varies considerably depending on the variety, degree of ripeness, environmental conditions and cultivation techniques. In mature tomatoes there are typical lycopene values of 50 mg/kg, but in some varieties this level can even exceed 70 mg/kg.
In tomatoes, the presence of lycopene is very high in the skin and in the pericarp: it is possible to reach 12 mg per 100 gr of wet product, almost 5 times the concentration normally found in the pulp. This element makes us understand that peeled tomatoes contain less lycopene than whole tomatoes or purees, where there is a technological enrichment of the finished product with part of the by-products coming from the peeled tomatoes.
Unlike other carotenoids (e.g. β-carotene), lycopene is not provitamin A, i.e. it is not transformed by the human body into vitamin A.
Tomato processing at temperatures between 90 and 150°C causes a large decrease in the total content of lycopene. The duration of the heat treatment has little or no effect on the degradation of lycopene if the temperature remains below 100°C.
Nowadays the production of the tomato puree and tomato concentrate is made according to the Cold Break process: the fresh tomato is processed at temperatures ranging from 65° to 75°C. The concentration process takes place by evaporation under vacuum conditions at temperatures much lower than 100°C. These standards guarantee a very low degradation of lycopene.
The main causes of degradation of lycopene are isomerization and oxidation. Low storage temperatures, low oxygen levels and reduced light exposure are used to combat oxidation degradation, particularly during the processing of the tomatoes.
In the food industry, the lycopene is used as a coloring additive and is identified by the initials E160d.
Figure 3. Lycopene is used in the food industry as a red dye (E160d).
The Mediterranean diet, which very much includes the tomato, has been associated with low levels of cancer . Several epidemiological studies have shown how the use of tomato is associated with low risks for different neoplasms .
Lycopene appears to be able to suppress tumor cell proliferation, to inhibit growth factor,to induce apoptosis as well as to inhibit angiogenesis .
Some studies have shown that lycopene has effects against chemotherapy and radioresistance of tumor cells , o it can be combined with the anticancer therapies currently in use.
Other scientific evidence has revealed that the consumption of tomato-based products has proved to be promising for prostate cancer prevention. The protective effects have recently been linked to lycopene .
One of the first studies conducted on the role of lycopene in the prevention of cancer of the esophagus was carried out in 1979 in Northern Iran. It shown that the weekly consumption of lycopene in a group of subjects examined was directly associated with the reduction of 40% of the risk of contracting a tumor in the esophagus .
It has been shown that high concentrations of lycopene in the blood are associated with a decreased risk of gastric mucosal cancer .
It has been proven that subjects with high levels of lycopene in the blood are 5 times less likely to develop pancreatic cancer .
It has been studied how women with elevated plasma levels of lycopene (and other carotenoids) are a third less exposed to the risk of cervical cancer .
Being a strong antioxidant, lycopene is recognized as useful in the prevention of oxidation of lipoproteins (LDL) and oxidative lesions of vascular endothelium , , both risk factors of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disorders .
A study of patients with grade 1 hypertension has shown that treatment with antioxidant-rich tomato extracts (lycopene in the first place) can reduce blood pressure .
A 1997 study conducted on six healthy subjects who took 60 mg of lycopene per day for 3 months, recorded a 14% decrease in the level of cholesterol in the blood, leading to hypothesis of a cholesterol-lowering property of lycopene.
The carotenoids and flavonoids contained in the tomato, when ingested, are distributed in the tissues exposed to light and provide a systemic photoprotection .
Il licopene, con le sue altissime capacità antiossidanti, può essere usato con successo nella prevenzione dei danni cutanei provocati Lycopene, with its very high antioxidant capacity, can be used to successfully prevent skin damage caused by free radicals .
Lycopene, moreover, is a preventive agent against skin damage through the reduction of inflammatory response and the prevention of DNA damage, blocking the apoptosis that follows an irradiation of UV rays that can lead to the development of neoplastic pathologies of the skin .
Lycopene is considered to be one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. This property is considered the most important in the prevention of chronic diseases .
Among the natural carotenoids, the lycopene has shown to have the highest ability to sweep away free radicals  and to be able to inactivate singlet oxygen with an efficacy up to 10 times higher than β-carotene.
Numerous in vivo studies have shown that tomatoes or their derivatives reduce DNA damage , lower the susceptibility to oxidative stress of lymphocytes  and decrease LDL oxidation or lipid peroxidation .
Activity on the bone apparatus
Bones are an extremely dynamic organ because they are subjected to a continuous remodeling, strictly regulated by the reabsorption of old bone tissue (through osteoclasts) and the formation of the new tissue (by osteoblasts). The disorders encountered in remodeling lead to bone diseases.
A scientific study has shown that lycopene stimulates the proliferation of osteoblast-like cells, acting as a powerful antioxidant and inhibiting the oxidative damage caused by the reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced at the intracellular level .
Lycopene has shown to inhibit osteoclastic mineral reabsorption, the formation of new osteoclasts and the production of ROS by the osteoclasts .
The effect of lycopene on osteoblasts and osteoclasts in vitro shows how lycopene can be important for the prevention of osteoporosis .
Recently, several scientific studies have focused on carotenoids (in particular on lycopene), flavonoids and vitamins, as potential agents for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Low levels of lycopene in the blood have been detected in patients with Parkinson’s disease .
An Austrian prevention study has shown that low plasma levels of lycopene were found to be related to the risk of microangiopathies .
It has been shown that the Alzheimer’s disease in old age is accompanied by low levels of antioxidants (including lycopene) in plasma, an increase in lipid peroxidation and a lower resistance to exposure to peroxidic radicals .
Eye tissue protection
An epidemiological study has established that low concentrations of carotenoids in the blood are associated with the risk of age-related macular degeneration . Furthermore, a study conducted in France has shown that the level of lycopene in the blood is significantly lower in those affected by macular degeneration .
The protagonists of our experiment
So far, we have seen that lycopene is extremely beneficial for our health and that the formula “the more lycopene is contained in the tomato, the redder this becomes” is true. Therefore, if we want to eat more lycopene through the use of fresh tomatoes, it will be enough to choose the redder ones.
How do we see it, however, in the tomato puree? How can we choose the one with the reddest or richer of lycopene? Our eyes are certainly not built to detect lycopene. Let’s try to see if Hydra can do it!
We wanted to protect all the brands studied and ensure the total anonymity of the analysis: we placed the products in containers without any initials (they are Petri plates), we mixed the samples and, finally, another person who was not present during the decanting phase has affixed labels with generic abbreviations on each container (Puree 1, puree 2, concentrate 1, etc.)
Our first analysis was conducted on the following products:
batch EC2 LB241 08:07
exp. date 31/07/2020
batch h13 L 230A
exp. date 18/08/2021
Cirio la rustica
batch J11LB220 L1
exp. date 12/2020
Supercirio concentrato di pomodoro
batch L A103 08:01 J10
exp. date 12/2021
Petti il delicato
batch PV7 L A225 23:37 2
exp. date 12/2021
batch A178 50 2 (M)
exp. date 01/06/2021
Mutti doppio concentrato
batch LZ1 L A 61 11:51
exp. date 01/03/2021
Despar doppio concentrato
batch EC1 L B321 03:28
exp. date 12/2020
|Petti il delicato||Coop Origine||Divella passata||Mutti passata||Mutti doppio concentrato||Cirio la rustica||Supercirio concentrato||Valfrutta vellutata||Despar doppio concentrato|
|Net weight||500 g||700 g||680 g||700 g||140 g||680 g||140 g||700 g||400 g|
|Energy kJ (kcal)||114 (27)||147 (35)||104 (25)||149 (36)||407 (96)||135 (32)||315 (74)||125 (30)||376 (89)|
|Fat||0,2 g||0,1 g||0,1 g||0,5 g||0,2 g||0,1 g||0,3 g||0,1 g||0 g|
|– of which saturated||0,0 g||0,0 g||0,0 g||0,1 g||0,1 g||0,1 g||0,1 g||0,1 g||0 g|
|Carbs||4,3 g||6,3 g||4,0 g||5,1 g||17 g||5,3 g||12,7 g||4,9 g||14 g|
|– of which sugar||4,3 g||4,4 g||4,0 g||4,5 g||14 g||4,2 g||9,5 g||3,9 g||14 g|
|Fibers||1,0 g||1,1 g||n.r.||n.r.||n.r.||1,7 g||3,0 g||1,5 g||5,1 g|
|Proteins||1,5 g||1,2 g||1,4 g||1,6 g||4,2 g||1,2 g||3,0 g||1,2 g||5 g|
|Salt||0,42 g||0,61 g||0,35 g||0,5 g||0,5 g||0,02 g||0,0 g||0,38 g||1,5 g|
Hydra: the electronic eye
There are no tools on the market able to identify lycopene during the tomato processing process. Having a device able to do this, can be useful for real-time monitoring of the quality of the semi-finished product, quickly correcting the transformation process and managing to maintain the level of lycopene in the finished product constant over time.
Caronte Consulting has designed Hydra, an innovative device able to identify in real time some fundamental parameters in the finished product, in semi-finished products and in the processing waste of liquids and solids.
The principle on which Hydra is very simple: the device continuously analyzes the semi-finished product, identifying drifts of one or more parameters and communicating the machining status to the SCADA system that governs machine parameters, in order to achieve optimal processing (Industry 4.0). In the absence of the SCADA system, Hydra software has an intelligent layer that is customized to automatically correct some machine parameters to contain the drifts.
To determine the presence of lycopene, we will investigate the UV-VIS spectrum in some specific frequencies. To get the maximum sensitivity to spectral variations, we will use the new Hydra DLT.
Figure 4. A drop of lycopene (E160d) in the tomato puree.
Let’s answe the questions we asked at the beginning of this first study.
Is it possible to identify the level of lycopene in tomato puree online?
The answer is: yes. Several scientific studies have shown the possibility of identifying in the laboratory the quantity of lycopene in the products obtained from tomato processing. The problem is that it is not possible to do it during the transformation process, but in the laboratory, in a solution of hexane, ethanol, acetone (2: 1: 1)  and at certain frequencies.
With Hydra it is possible to identify any variation of lycopene during the transformation process in the sausage factory. As you can see in Figure 5, the variations of lycopene are observable exactly in the frequencies in which the lycopene is studied.
Figure 5. Curve of the differences between the spectrum of a tomato puree and the spectrum of the same with the addition of lycopene. The peaks correspond to the characteristic frequencies of lycopene in the UV-VIS spectrum.
Is it true that the tomato concentrate has a greater presence of lycopene than the tomato puree?
The answer is: yes. At equal weight, tomato concentrate has a greater quantity of lycopene than tomato puree.
By examining Figure 6, it is possible to distinguish 2 areas in which the spectrum of the examined samples moves: an area in which the spectra of the tomato concentrates are collected (above the dotted line) and an area in which the spectra of the tomato puree (below the dotted line).
The difference of lycopene in the tomato puree is quite modest, however, there is a tomato puree with a slightly lower lycopene level than the others. On the other hand, the differences between the concentrates are also quite contained.
An interesting fact: there is a tomato puree that has a quantity of lycopene quite close to that of tomato concentrates.
Figure 6. Spectral levels of lycopene in the tomato puree and concentrates.
In conclusion, no unexpected or “strange” value emerged from our analysis. All the products we examined contain an excellent level of lycopene, have minimal variations and the producers seem to transform the Italian tomato correctly.
Hydra proves to be, once again, an innovative sensor extremely valuable and versatile, so that it can be used with profit in the sausage, directly on the industrial line that transforms the tomato into puree and concentrate.
Our experiments have also highlighted how the lycopene degrades, with the passage of time, in high presence of oxygen. Also in this case, Hydra has proved to be very useful in tracing this degradation curve of lycopene. We will show the results in the next articles.
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