The Mortiño, a promising fruit for the country's health and economy
By: Gimena Ruiz Pérez, Unimedios
The mortiño, or Andean blueberry (arándano), scientifically known as the Vaccinium meridionale Swartz, has been found to contain pigments known as anthocyanins, which act as antioxidants (substances that protect cells) in organisms.
That is why researchers at the Food Science Laboratory at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (National University of Colombia) in Medellín, in Association with experts from Argentina, have focused on this fruit and are studying its chemical and biochemical characterization, antioxidant properties and agribusiness potential, with a view towards promoting its production and consumption.
Professor Benjamín Rojano, the coordinator of the laboratory, reports that this curious fruit is found in the northern Andes, in certain zones of Venezuela and Ecuador and in the departments of Santander, Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Nariño, Cauca and Antioquia in Colombia.
Although the mortiño grows wild and the first adaptations of the plant in vitro are just beginning to be made, Colombia has a great potential to produce it.
Therefore, and taking into consideration that berries (the family to which the mortiño belongs) are sought-after at the international level, above all in Europe and the United States, Colombia over the long term could become a large-scale exporter of the fruit.
One of the laboratory studies seeks to establish the conditions for greater production of antioxidants in different states of the plant, and to create a productive chain. "We are monitoring different zones of the Departments of Antioquia, Boyacá and Santander to find the terrains where the best fruits that can better conserve their nutraceutical characteristics (natural substances with therapeutic action) can be produced", says Professor Rojano.
By analyzing different clones, the researchers have found differences in the expression of certain secondary metabolites (antioxinanines) and identified that the mortiños from the municipalities of El Retiro and Santa Rosa de Osos, and from the Township of Santa Elena, in Antioquia, have the greatest benefits.
With respect to climate change and its effects on flowering and fruiting, Clara Medina, PhD in Agricultural Sciences from the UN and a researcher at Corpoica, through her research study entitled Populational and Ecophysiological Variability of the Mortiño, a Species with Productive and Agro–export Potential in the High–Andean Tropic (Variabilidad poblacional y ecofisiológica del mortiño, especie con potencial productivo y agroexportador en el trópico altoandino), observed the behavior of the fruit in its natural habitat and under different light intensities.
"The main findings show that during times of constant rain, productivity decreases, whereas in shade the plant has a better response. Meanwhile, its growth can be controlled through pruning", affirms Medina.
Using a certification project for the species, it was found that in the Department of Antioquia the fruit survived in damp zones, whereas in Boyacá and Cundinamarca it is found in cold dry zones.
According to this expert in agricultural sciences, "planting seeds of this species has made it possible for us to determine variables, for example that the entire growth process of the plant can take as long as four years".
Yasmín Lopera, a master’s student in Food Science and Technology at the UN in Medellín, evaluated the antioxidant activity and cardio–protective effect of this fruit, but in wines. Her work was carried out in association with professors at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (Argentina) (National University of La Plata, Argentina), and was based on the fact that consumption of this beverage in that country has increased by 55% over the last five years, while epidemiological studies have found that some wines act as antioxidants. She wanted to prove this herself.
Her evaluation consisted in provoking a short ischemia (heart attack) in isolated rat hearts, simulating the same conditions as in the human heart. The objective was to observe whether supplying mortiño wine would produce some type of recovery of myocardial function. "In effect, the beverage helps to recover the rodents’ hearts following a short ischemia process", she affirms.
Lopera now has a standardized beverage under conditions and parameters suitable for fermentation. She says that it is feasible to produce a quality wine that would be attractive and appetizing to consumers.
What is this unexplored fruit like?
The arándano plant can be from 1.5 to 7 meters high. It grows wild in altitudes between 2200 and 3400 meters above sea level. Its fruit is round, approximately 1.2 cm in diameter, green when growing, dark red (with a black or violet appearance) when mature and has a tart flavor.
The productive life of the plant can be as long as eight decades, and Colombia is the only country where it produces two harvests per year, in late June and late December.
During its cultivation, the mortiño is subjected to a domestication process, in other words, it is transplanted to a terrain that has been prepared with better solar lighting conditions, good slopes and acid soils. After transplanting, it can take 3 to 4 years to reach an optimum level of production.