The research is led by New Zealand-based Plant & Food Research, in collaboration with three Japanese science organisations; Yamaguchi University, the National Institute for Vegetable and Tea Science and RIKEN.
The scientific study has received funding of NZ$0.5m ($360,000) from the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and New Zealand’s Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI).
Craig Holmes, senior sector manager at MSI, told FoodNavigator-Asia said that the research is particularly relevant to New Zealand as onions are the country’s largest vegetable export, with a market value of over NZ$85m for the 2010/11 production season.
He explained that the research will “screen members of the onion family, known to have positive effects on cardiovascular and gut health, for health-related compounds.”
The research will identify specific compounds in onions and spring onions that may have health properties and then measure the variation of these compounds across a wide range of different onion varieties, he added.
The goal of the research is to end up with an extensive reference database documenting the health-related compound properties in onions that can eventually be used for fortified, functional foods.
Holmes said: “This research will underpin New Zealand-based breeding and production programmes aimed at maximising functionality… supporting the development of products with high levels of these added-value health compounds.”
The project addresses a target research area defined by the Horticultural Vegetable Research and Innovation Board to develop ‘innovative vegetable products based on nutritionally superior produce’ he explained.
Strengthening collaborative research
A second project is also taking place between the two countries looking into developing a functional food with specific health enhancing effects for menopausal New Zealand women.
This project is headed up by the Massey University of New Zealand and has received the same amount of funding from the collaborative countries.
Wayne Mapp, New Zealand’s minister of science and innovation said: “The government is committed to building and strengthening research relationships with other countries that will achieve world-class scientific results and lead to new innovative technologies.”
The information developed will be made available to the industry through published papers and presentations at international conferences and through a web-based database.