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 Supercritical CO2 Extraction of Maca (Lepidium meyenii): A Sustainable and Efficient Method

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a root vegetable native to the Peruvian Andes. It grows at high altitudes under harsh environmental conditions. Maca has been traditionally used to enhance energy, improve mood, and boost fertility. Nowadays, it is popular among health enthusiasts and used in various food and supplement products. Supercritical CO2 extraction is a sustainable, eco-friendly, and efficient extraction method to obtain maca extracts with high purity and bioactivity.

Supercritical CO2 extraction of maca
The supercritical CO2 extraction process of maca

Supercritical CO2 Extraction in Maca

Supercritical CO2 extraction is a state-of-the-art technology that allows obtaining pure plant extracts without using toxic solvents or high temperatures. In this process, carbon dioxide (CO2) is pressurized and heated until it reaches its supercritical state, where it displays both gas and liquid properties. Supercritical CO2 can diffuse into the plant matrix, solubilize the desired compounds, and be easily separated after depressurization.

Compared with traditional solvent extraction methods, supercritical CO2 extraction is safer, more sustainable, and economically viable. Furthermore, it can significantly minimize extract contamination and chemical variability, ensuring the consistent composition of the final products.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction Process

The supercritical CO2 extraction process comprises several critical steps, as detailed in the following section.

  1. Pre-treatment: Maca roots are cleaned, sliced into small pieces, and dried to remove water. The pre-treatment step aims to increase the surface area of the plant material, reduce the drying time, and prevent enzymatic degradation.
  2. Extraction: The ground maca powder is placed inside the extraction vessel, which is filled with supercritical CO2 under the pre-defined conditions (temperature, pressure, and flow rate). The CO2 penetrates the pores and tissues of maca and extracts the bioactive compounds such as macamides, macaenes, and glucosinolates.
  3. Separation: The CO2-maca extract mixture is depressurized through a valve, leading to two phases: the gaseous CO2 and the liquid maca extract.
  4. Purification: The maca extract can be further purified by removing any remaining CO2 and moisture using several techniques such as spray-drying, freeze-drying, or vacuum distillation.

Factors affecting supercritical CO2 extraction of Maca

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Supercritical CO2 extraction parameters include temperature, pressure, and flow rate, and influence the efficiency and quality of the maca extract. The impact of these factors can be analyzed and optimized using experimental design software.

Table 1. Factors affecting the maca extract yield and quality.

FactorLevel ILevel IILevel III
Pressure20 MPa30 MPa40 MPa
Flow rate15 mL/min25 mL/min35 mL/min
Yield (%)7.812.617.4
Glucosinolates (mg/g)
Macamides (mg/g)8.311.514.8
Macaenes (mg/g)

Benefits of Supercritical CO2 Extraction of Maca

Supercritical CO2 extraction of maca provides several benefits such as:

  1. High selectivity: CO2 extraction selectively solubilizes maca phytochemicals, minimizing the “background noise” from other non-targeted compounds.
  2. No toxic residue: CO2 is an inert and safe gas that does not leave any toxic residue on the extract, making it suitable for human consumption.
  3. Environmentally friendly: Unlike organic solvents, CO2 is abundant, non-flammable, and non-toxic. The CO2 utilized in the process can be recirculated, minimizing the environmental impact and reducing the carbon footprint of the extraction process.

Applications of Maca Extract

Maca extract obtained through supercritical CO2 extraction finds its use in the food, nutraceutical, and cosmetic industries. Some popular applications are:

  1. Capsules and Powder: Maca extract can be encapsulated or formulated into powders for use as a dietary supplement. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, providing various health benefits.
  2. Cosmetics: Maca extract has antioxidant and anti-aging properties, making it suitable for cosmetic applications such as skin creams, lotions, and masks
  1. Functional Foods: Maca extract can enrich food products with additional bioactive compounds, contributing to their nutritional value and potential health benefits. It can be added to energy bars, beverages, and smoothie mixes.

Final Words

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Supercritical CO2 extraction is a green, safe, and effective method of extracting maca bioactives. It eliminates the need for toxic solvents or high temperatures, ensuring the bioactivity, purity, and quality of the final extract. Supercritical CO2 parameters such as temperature, pressure, and flow rate can be optimized to improve the yield and quality of the extract. Maca extract has several applications in various industries such as food, cosmetics, and nutraceuticals. Further studies can explore the potential of maca extract in improving human health and wellbeing.