(This Blog is Continued from Part 1) View Part 1 of this Blog
Aloe’s Use and Cultivation – Part 2
At harvest time, just like in ancient times, harvesters still use quick, clean cuts at the bottom of the outer leaf, to help ensure that the aloe’s precious gel isn’t overly exposed to the air—which we now know causes a loss of potency due to oxidation.
Today however, while aloe leaves continue to be harvested by hand, large growers increasingly rely on modern machines for cutting, manufacturing and distribution without sacrificing purity.
Once the leaf has been cut from the aloe plant, like any living thing it immediately starts to decompose. If it’s left sitting unprocessed, after 24 to 48 hours its nutritional properties will all but vanish. That’s why it’s important that once the leaves have been harvested, they are quickly transported to a processing facility. Ideally, the leaves are taken in small lots, about a ton or less at a time, to help ensure speedy processing.
Growers and processors go to great lengths to ensure the crop’s freshness. During transportation, special containers are often used to help protect the aloe from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Because UVA and UVB rays can alter some of the qualities of aloe, protected containers ensure it isn’t exposed to light. And refrigerated transportation is particularly important in protecting the raw material so none of the aloe plant’s 200 biologically active components are lost. Non-refrigerated transportation could diminish product quality, especially in summer months when temperatures can soar upwards of 140°F during transportation.
Once the gel-filled aloe leaves arrive safely at the processing facility, they are carefully inspected and selected for processing into various formulations. Depending in part on the final use and the philosophies of the various growers and manufacturers, processing methods differ.
For example, “filleting” is designed to glean the aloe’s clear inner gel, which contains the plant’s most active elements.
In hand filleting, the outer rind of the aloe leaf is removed by hand with a sharp knife. Other companies employ automated extraction processes to extract the gel. Either way, it’s very important in processing to remove all of the aloin, or aloe latex, contained in the leafy outer portion of the plant, which acts as a laxative.
Aloin, a component of the aloe leaf, was a common ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) laxative products in the U.S. until 2003 when the Food and Drug Administration ruled it a Category III ingredient and banned its use. Unprocessed aloe containing aloin is used primarily as a laxative, whereas processed aloe vera juice that does not contain significant amounts of aloin is used as a digestive aid. Due to the FDA ruling, manufacturers now commonly remove aloin during processing.
Still other manufacturers prefer the “whole leaf” processing method whereby the entire leaf is used. In the whole-leaf processing method, leaves are first washed and sanitized, then ground and finally filtered and enhanced to remove unwanted constituents like aloin.
The International Aloe Science Council (IASC), regulators of the aloe industry, recognizes the description “whole-leaf” to be accurate only if no purification, filtration or other treatment (enzymes, etc.) is conducted on the ingredient beyond the removal of any insoluble material.
“Purified/filtered whole-leaf” describes products or raw material where not only is the entire leaf used as a starting ingredient but also some sort of purification or filtration is utilized (including treatment with enzymes, etc.) to remove or substantially reduce unwanted material and substances from the resulting juice or powder, such as the rind and aloe latex. Other terms such as “charcoal filtered” or “treated” may also be used to describe these products and materials.
Proponents of whole-leaf processing list such advantages as maximum yield of desirable constituents, cost-effectiveness, and increased concentration of total solids, while others insist that the gel be separated at the beginning of the process.
The next step is for the gel to be pasteurized and stabilized. Flash pasteurization is employed to remove active harmful bacteria that live on the plant. A limited amount of heat is applied for a short time as the leaves are being processed, ensuring that the active components, including the polysaccharides, remain viable. Conversely, batch pasteurization is sometimes employed, whereby aloe is basically “cooked” in the pan. Cold-processed products are not subjected to heat at all.
Finally, stabilizers such as ascorbic and citric acids are added, and preservatives such as sodium benzoate may also be used. Potassium sorbate is often added to prevent mold and fungus growth.
The entire process, from cutting the leaves to the final aloe extract, is ideally completed within 72 hours to ensure maximum effectiveness. The result? Pure, stabilized aloe vera gel, with all of its 200 active components intact, which serves as the foundation for some of the most remarkable products known to man.