LSU lab gives food companies new ideas

Oysters and prunes may not have a lot in common, but in Subramaniam Sathivel’s lab, these are two of the products chefs are working with to develop new foods for consumers. The LSU AgCenter food engineer specializes in cryopreservation and shelf stabilization of foods.

He is partnering with Motivatit Seafoods in Houma to help them produce oyster-and-spinach ravioli.

“Last summer, I sent them the product and sent instructions out to microwave it,” Sathivel said.

A week later, Sathivel got an email saying the company liked the product and wanted to modify it slightly for commercialization.

Motivatit Seafoods’ corporate chef Jason Gilfour said Sathivel’s research is allowing the company to pursue new value-added products.

“It’s enabled us to take our efforts a bit further with resources we wouldn’t have otherwise,” Gilfour said.

Motivatit developed a high-pressure process for killing the bacteria vibrio vulnificus that can be found in raw oysters. Sathivel’s help in freezing and packaging the product ensures it is fresh and safe to consume.

“We are using cryogenic freezing to reduce the vibrio content. Our studies show we pretty much bring down to zero level the vibrio, so it is a pretty good, safe product,” Sathivel said.

The product still needs a little tweaking, Gilfour said.

“We’ll hold it at a frozen temperature. Then we’ll bring it to the microwave, and we’ll adjust times and moisture content so that we achieve that desired flavor profile and temperatures,” he said.

Once development is complete, the ravioli would be available in the grocer’s freezer as a convenient, microwavable food. Gilfour said this could be as soon as February.

Sathivel also is working with the company Sunsweet on flavor enhancement and shelf-life extension.

Mark Crowell, a culinologist who consults with Sunsweet, said Sathivel helped the company develop a new process for reducing water activity in its product, which slows bacterial growth.

“This research opens up whole new markets for us,” Crowell said. “The particular project we’re doing now has application in cereal. And this ingredient heretofore was never in cereal because it didn’t have the right characteristics.”

Crowell said he flies into Baton Rouge from Seattle to conduct his work because Sathivel’s lab is equipped with the tools and brainpower to help his product development.