Introduction: Tomato is one of the most valuable sources of minerals and vitamins supply in the human diet. Low shelf life of tomato and its short shelf life with inadequate processing facilities lead to heavy financial losses. Therefore, preserving and processing of tomato are of the commercial importance. Drying is one of the preferred methods for tomato preservation. Dried tomato products including half tomatoes, tomato slices and tomato powder, have many consumptions, compared with other tomato products. Among dried tomato products, tomato powder has a particular market. Powder production is an alternative method to extend the shelf life of foods. Usually the fruit powder is very dry, humidity absorber and has too much volume. Therefore, during storage, transportation and administration, it requires special care and heavy packaging which increase the cost. To overcome these problems, compression of the fruit powder in tablet form could be a proper solution. Tablet making of fruit powder has gained much popularity due to its ease of use, storage, transportation and product formulation. After the tablet making process, the pills contain high moisture contentwhich makes them un-suitable for transportation and storage. So, in order to prevent the tablets corruption and maintain their quality, tablet drying is one of the important steps after the tablet making process. The drying process is an important operation that affects the quality and final price of the product. Different drying methods play an important role in protecting foodstuffs. However, the effect of different drying methods on the quality of some foodstuffs is not clear.
Materials and methods: In this research, after the preparation of fresh tomatoes, the primary moisture content of tomatoes was determined using hot air oven method. Then, using blanching method, the tomatoes were peeled and samples were cut using a sharp razor in thicknesses of 3 mm. Tomato slices were dried using a semi-industrial dryer in a hot air at 50 °C at an air speed of 1 m/s. Dried tomato slices were powdered using a grinder. In order to homogenize the particle size, the tomato powder was sieved by a 50 mesh (Cavity size 0.5 mm) sample. Suitable moisture content to create sufficient adhesion between the particles of tomato powder was selected at %23 d.b. Water and fructose were used as a bonding agent. The process of producing tomato spherical tablets was performed by a hydraulic press. Drying tests of wet compressed tablets were performed immediately after the end of the tabletting process using a hot air drying machine with microwave pre-treatment. In this study, the effect of drying variables,through using of microwave pre-treatment along with hot air, including air temperature in five levels (40, 50, 60, 70 and 80 °C), air velocity at five levels (0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, and 2.5 m/s) and the duration of microwave application at five levels (zero (without microwave), 4, 8, 12, and 16 s) on physical properties (shrinkage and unit density), mechanical (penetration resistance) and thermal (Effective moisture diffusivity and energy consuming drying) of compact pomegranate produced from tomato powder were studied. Statistical analysis of data and optimization of drying process were performed using response surface method and central composite design.
Results and discussion: Results showed that effect of air temperature and duration of microwave pretreatment on all variables of compressed tomato tablets were significant in hot air dryers with microwave pre-treatment. Increasing temperature and time of microwave pre-treatment increased the effective moisture diffusivity and shrinkage of the final product. The temperature of the air inlet to the dryer had a negative effect on the resistance to penetration, the unit density and the specific energy consumption of the drying process. Drying under lower temperature conditions and less time for microwave pre-treatment resulted in an increase in the desirability of the drying process