Central Otago experimenting with freezing cherries

by Kim Bowden - Jan 22, 2024

Central Otago's cherries are close to being all picked for the season but a trial backed by public funding could see the life of the popular summer fruit extended for the first time in these parts.

Alexandra's Eden Orchards, known for its cherry juices, has been experimenting with individually freezing cherries in an effort to develop a commercially viable process.

Stems and pits are removed from the cherries before they are put in the freezer, a technique used for surplus fruit elsewhere in the world but not happening until now in Central.

The orchard has received $40,000 from the Ministry of Primary Industries Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund for the project, which builds on earlier work led by the Central Otago District Council to make use of more locally grown fruit that would otherwise go to waste.  

In a media statement provided by the council, Eden Orchards general manager Cameron Bignell says the funding is allowing his team to pilot the new processing technique much sooner than they would otherwise have been able to.

According to the council, every year on average 2,207 tons of Central Otago cherries are discarded or not harvested due to imperfections, and this quantity is expected to increase as new plantings reach peak production.

Frozen cherries retain several of the health benefits of fresh cherries and are growing in popularity for use in smoothies and as baking ingredients, but most frozen cherries available for sale in New Zealand are imported.

Eliana Glover, the managing director of Nelson food distributor FSL Foods will be watching how the trial goes.

“It’s fantastic to see this pilot happening, as a supplier of IQF (individually quick frozen) fruit we are always on the lookout for locally produced fruit and believe there is great market potential for IQF Central Otago cherries.”

The council's economic development team has been working with local growers and food manufacturers to identify exactly what opportunities there are and how much fruit could be available for them.

The final stage of that work has involved bringing together commercial partners interested in collaborating on new processing options in the area.

“I’m stoked to see the first pilot up and running," CODC economic development manager Nick Lanham says in the statement.

“Supporting the growth of more commercial processing of waste fruit is great from a sustainability angle as it reduces the amount of fruit wasted, creates additional revenue streams for growers, and generates more economic activity in the district.”

Local grower Alex Huffadine, who is part of the council project group, says the Eden Orchards' trial "ticks so many boxes, minimising waste, adding value and employing locals”.

Main image (Supplied/CODC): Eden Juices general manager Cameron Bignell and the frozen cherries being used in a processing pilot supported by $40,000 from the Ministry of Primary Industries Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund.

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