Abstract: Sugar infusion is a widely used osmotic treatment for fruit preservation, but the process is inherently slow and the waxy skins of some fruits hinder mass transfer during the process. This work examined the utility of perforation by a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser as a novel skin treatment to improve the infusion process. In 2 experiments, individually quick frozen (IQF) blueberries were subjected to varying degrees of laser perforation (3 levels of perforation density × 3 levels of perforation depth), and then infused stepwise with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to a final °Brix of 70 using varying solution concentration increment (5, 10, 20, and 30 °Brix/d). At each concentration, increasing perforation density and depth promoted solute migration into the fruit with increased fruit weight (P < 0.05; up to 24.15%, 37.23%, 52.89%, 65.34% wt. increase at 5, 10, 20, and 30 °Brix/d compared to the controls). Laser-treated blueberries maintained the original shape without excessive shrinkage and texture hardening due to enhanced solute incorporation, while the controls and mechanically treated samples were ruptured and wrinkled at the end of the process. Increasing solution concentrations shortened the process duration but decreased final fruit weight due to greater osmotic gradients. However, negative effects of using higher solution concentrations on final fruit weight were significantly alleviated with moderate-to-high doses of laser perforation (P < 0.001). Overall, the results demonstrate that laser perforation can be a viable skin pretreatment technique, offering marked improvement on final process yield, process efficiency, and product quality.
Practical Application: CO2 laser perforation as a novel skin pretreatment for sugar infusion of individually quick frozen (IQF) blueberries is presented. The technique markedly improves the product yield and quality. Although further investigation is needed, the method may potentially be used for other waxy skin fruits such as cranberries and cherries.