By Zac B. Sarian

A programmable dehydrator machine for making herbal tea has been developed by researchers from the Iloilo Science and Technology University which dries the raw materials at the right temperature. As such, the leaves being dried are dehydrated according to their heating requirements, ensuring that the phytochemicals found in the leaves are intact.

Phytochemicals are compounds produced by plants that they use to protect themselves from stresses like diseases, insects, and predators. They are also believed to fight cancer cells. If the leaves are dried under very high temperature, the phytochemicals could be damaged.

The first unit is newly installed at the Ephrathah Farm, a leisure farm in Badiangan, Iloilo, which is used in drying leaves of malunggay, guyabano, and guava for making herbal tea. The leaves are dried at the optimum temperature of 45 degrees Celsius. Higher than that, the phytochemicals could be destroyed.

The new dehydrator is a hybrid machine. During the daytime, the heat is supplied by a metal heat catcher together with a solar panel. If drying is necessary at nighttime, conventional electricity can supply the power.

The ISAT U researchers that developed the new dehydrator machine is headed by Dr. Renerio Mucas, faculty researcher. The other members are Hilario Taberna Jr., senior faculty researcher, and Dr. Nemia H. Mabaquiao, an electrical engineer who is also the university’s director for National and International Affairs. She quips that she is the muse of the research team. The research was started in October 2017 with P4-million in funding from the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) of the Department of Science and Technology.

Ed Roderick Cañuto, Ephrathah vice president for production, said that with the new electronically-controlled dehydrator, they will be able to produce bigger volumes of herbal tea that is dried under the right temperature. Previously, Ephrathah could only dry very limited amounts because they were using a small dryer with just three trays, and the temperature was not controlled. The new dryer has 12 layers of food grade stainless steel trays capable of drying the leaves in eight hours.

Cañuto explained that the researchers did not only study how to program the supply of the right heat to the raw materials being dried. They also researched on the right maturity of the leaves at harvest, best time to harvest, and other concerns. They found that the leaves that are mature green, neither too young nor too old, are the best. The unit is equipped with a phytochemicals analyzer and a color meter (for the leaves).

Why is Ephrathah producing herbal tea out of the leaves of malunggay, guyabano, and guava? Well, Cañuto explained that malunggay is full of valuable nutrients. On the other hand, guyabano is claimed to have anti-cancer properties, whereas guava is claimed as antiseptic. He added they will also use the dehydrator to dry Roselle to produce other high-value products.

Next research

Cañuto revealed that PCAARRD will next fund a greenhouse research project aimed at automating the hydroponics system of growing vegetables and herbs. One of the new strategies of PCAARRD, according to Cañuto, is to fund a research project with an identified beneficiary that will initially adopt the technology that is developed.

Hydroponics is one more technique adopted by Ephrathah Farm last year that has been proven very profitable. The present system, however, could be greatly improved if the control of pH and EC (electro conductivity) is automated.