Scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a way to create chitin, a food stabilizer and thickener, using food waste like prawn shells and discarded fruit peels and fermenting them. The team's findings were published in peer-reviewed journal AMB Express in January 2020.

Chitin is also an anti-microbial food packaging substance while its derivative, chitosan, is a growth enhancer in plant fertilizers and can be employed as a controlled drug delivery system in pharmaceutical treatments or as a more durable cellulose film with anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties.

Prof. William Chen, Director of the Food Science and Technology program at NTU, who led the research, said "the huge amount of shrimp waste has sparked industrial interest as it is an abundant source of chitin. However, there is a problem in the extraction method, which is both unsustainable and harmful to the environment. Our new method takes crustacean waste and discarded fruit waste and uses natural fermentation processes to extract chitin. This is not only cost-effective, but also environmentally-friendly and sustainable, and helps to reduce overall waste."

The NTU team tested ten sources of common fruit waste such as white and red grape pomace, mango and apple peels, and pineapple cores, in various fermentation experiments and found out that fruit waste contained enough sugar content to power the fermentation process that breaks prawn shells down into chitin. They used X-ray diffraction technique to determine the atomic and molecular structure of the chitin created using the new method and its level of purity was measured using a crystallinity index that gave their product a crystallinity index of 98.16 per cent, which compared to commercial chitin samples with an index of 87.56 per cent. The fermentation process using the sugar content from the fruit waste produced higher quality chitin than the commercial one.

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