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  • Karel Schmiedberger

The history of lyophilization


Dr. Jacques Arsène d'Arsonval

We have already described how freeze-drying works and what food dried by this method looks like. It's time for a bit of education again, so we can look at where lyophilization first appeared and how it made its way into the mainstream of today's laboratories and food processors.

In his book Lyophilization: Introduction and basic principles, a certain Mr Thomas Jennings states that the night frost and high altitude low pressure were used to dry potatoes by the ancient Incas. Once dried, the food lasted longer and was lighter, making it easier to transport to the foothills. Hence the name of our AMARU after the last Inca ruler, Tupac Amaru.

However, artificially induced lyophilization was first carried out by Dr. Jacques Arsène d'Arsonval at the famous Collège de France in Paris in 1906. Five years later, in 1911, Downey Harris used lyophilization to preserve live rabies virus, which greatly assisted the development of rabies vaccination.

The new method of drying came into more widespread use during World War II. At that time, the United States needed to get blood serums to the overseas fronts with maximum durability, resistant to external influences, and the reduced weight was a welcome bonus.

Conversely, the rapid reduction in weight was the reason why lyophilization was used by NASA. It is said to cost about a thousand dollars to get a gram into space. What savings can there be if food loses more than 90% of its weight? So the first freeze-dried food left our planet as part of the Mercury programme in the early 1960s.

Because of their high cost, freeze-dryers found their way primarily into the laboratories and manufacturing plants of the pharmaceutical industry. It may come as a surprise to some that cosmetics followed the production of medicines. As the technology improved (and thus the price dropped), lyophilization expanded into other industries that could pass on the cost of the unique drying process to the final product.

Only in recent decades has lyophilization made its way into the live flower drying segment. The U.S. is well ahead in this industry, as evidenced by the number of family-owned businesses arranging freeze-dried flowers and pugettes, as well as the growing number of companies offering freeze-dryers for just this purpose. They are in a better position here, because the equipment aimed at drying flowers can also be used in the field of taxidermy, which is much more popular in North America than in Europe.

We ourselves would like to make at least a small notch in the history of lyophilization, of course in the food and gastronomy segment. So far, food lyophilizers have been produced more for mass production, in the range of tens to hundreds of kilograms per day, which corresponded to their price. Therefore, the freeze-dried fruit purchased today comes from either India or China. Those who wanted to freeze-dry fruit as a trade or small business had to use a laboratory freeze-drier with a really small capacity (about 1 - 2 kg) for about 10 - 15 thousand euro or dare to buy a device for about 20 kg at a price of about 200 thousand euro. And even here the user would have to put up with setting many parameters and "tuning" the process for each product, which involves considerable financial costs.

With AMARU we would like to change this.


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