N.S. researcher using science to improve taste of frozen lobster
Dr. Shah Razul believes his unique technology can be used on other seafoods
A Nova Scotia university professor is blurring the boundaries between fresh and frozen.
Dr. Shah Razul has developed a technology that he says improves the process of freezing food without jeopardizing taste.
First up on the menu: cooked lobster.
"We wanted to apply it to something that, of course, most Nova Scotians love," said Razul, an assistant chemistry professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.
"And it's working."
His innovative research is focused on how to preserve tissues when freezing occurs.
He said because of the way water freezes, the tissues in meat tend to be destroyed once frozen. A common example is freezer burn.
"What remains challenging for researchers trying to look at this problem is what are the molecules themselves doing?" said Razul.
To gain insight, he used special equipment to conduct computer simulations and lab experiments.
Razul applies a small amount of special liquid to the meat before freezing. A computer simulation determines the best combination of five or six biomolecules to be added to the liquid.
The process has been shown to protect both the inside and outside of the cooked lobster meat by minimizing damaging water crystal growth on the tissue.
"What's unique here is not the molecules themselves — it's how they're tuned to work together," said Razul. "It's cheap. It's biodegradable. It's natural."
Technology passes taste test
He chose the crustacean because it's one of his favourite foods and typically, frozen lobster meat is "not tasty."
"The longer it's frozen, the worse it tastes," said Razul.
Razul said a taste test was conducted as part of his one-year study with community members at St. Francis Xavier and Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., after six months and one year of the meat being frozen.
The results showed the meat passed muster.
"It's one thing to think that it's working well and maybe you think it's working well, but it's another thing for other people to independently test it and say, "Hey, it is superior, it is better, it tastes like the lobster was practically cooked yesterday,'" said Razul.
Other seafood also on the menu
Razul is currently working with a partner to bring his technology to industry. However, he wouldn't divulge which industry or what exactly the product is.
He said in theory, the technology could be applied to other seafood as well, but it's not one-size-fits-all. The liquid used on the meat — known as a cryoprotectant — must be adapted for each product based on the results of the computer simulation.
Razul said he will also be attempting to adapt the technology for other lobster products, including whole raw lobster, so it wouldn't have to be shipped in water.
Eventually, he sees the technology being used in the health industry for preserving human cells and organs.
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