Harnessing the potential of Croatia’s world famous indigenous cherry

A research project is exploring new ways to process sour cherries; techniques pave the way for the future development of new food products. This know-how is being transferred to SMEs with the aim of boosting the agri-food industry in the region.

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Innovative technologies are developing new uses for Croatia’s renowned Marasca cherry Innovative technologies are developing new uses for Croatia’s renowned Marasca cherry

The Marasca cherry is a type of sour Morello cherry and those cultivated along Croatia’s coast, particularly around the town of Zadar, are reputed to be the world’s finest and are characterised by their astringent flavour and dark red juice.

Functional food

In recent years, scientists at the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology in Zadar have carried out research into processing the cherries with the eventual aim of bringing new commercial food products to market, examining the stability of the cherry’s biologically active compounds, antioxidant activity and sensory properties and maximising the fruit’s economic potential to the region.

Prior research had shown that the Marasca sour cherry has the potential to be known as a “functional food”, as it is rich in biologically active compounds and contains anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, a clinical study has proven that daily consumption of Marasca concentrated juice can help to prevent cardiovascular diseases. The Marasca cherry also contains substances that relieve symptoms of headaches, arthritis and goitres. It also contains melatonin, a naturally-occurring plant hormone that helps regulate sleep.

Building partnerships between researchers, producers and industry

The main objectives of this ERDF-funded research project were to develop and refine technologies for the freeze-drying and spray-drying of sour cherries and to produce two new products: lyophilized and dehydrated Marasca cherries. Project manager Verica Dragović-Uzelac said that the project successfully achieved these aims by producing a new type of freeze-dried cherry and a sour cherry juice powder, which can be used to make an instant drink.

In addition, the project saw the creation of a new laboratory in Zadar for monitoring biological activity in cherries. The project also saw local cherry growers attending workshops and receiving information about the potential of processing Marasca sour cherries. The hope is that the transfer of knowledge and technology to small and medium enterprises in the region will improve the competitiveness of the agri-food industry and create partnerships between local producers, the local food-processing industry and scientific community.

Dr Verica Dragović-Uzelac said that, as a result of the project, a number of local food producers have become interested in developing new products which could lead to the region’s cherries being used in a number of products, such as locally-produced chocolate. There is also potential for processed cherries to be used in the creation of fruit juices and other confectionary products. However, it could be some time before new products are perfected and enter commercial production.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Marasca Sour Cherry as an Ingredient for Functional Food” is EUR 496 800, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance contributing EUR 360 000  through the “Regional Competitiveness” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.

Draft date