According to the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), more than 80 million kilos of spruce sprouts could be gathered from Finnish forests. Currently, only less than one per cent of this amount is collected. By increasing the collection of spruce sprouts and by developing the further processing of the raw material, earnings obtained from spruce sprouts could be multiplied.
Spruce sprouts show a significant potential to speed up the natural products sector. In recent years, demand for sprouts has exceeded the supply of the raw material because the food sector has also selected it as a raw material in high-volume daily food products in addition to specialty products.
“Spruce sprouts could be called the green gold of our forests. More than 80 million kilos of them could be gathered from Finland’s forests”, says Henri Vanhanen, senior scientist at Luke.
Senior scientist Tuula Jyske estimates that forest owners and pickers could earn more than EUR 500 million from collecting spruce sprouts alone. Further processing to make various products would multiply this amount.
“Best of all, the collection of spruce sprouts once per growing season has not been found to have any impact on spruce growth”, Jyske says.
Quality control to maintain healthy properties
Added value requires high raw material quality control throughout the chain, from collection to storage, pre-processing and production. The cold chain, in particular, must be ensured. Spruce sprouts are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants that must not be wasted in the production chain.
“For example, the vitamin C content varies, depending on whether sprouts have been dried in a dryer or freezer or whether they have been frozen fresh. Drying in a freezer is the best option to maintain the vitamin C content”, says Susan Kunnas, research scientist at Luke.
Aiming at export markets with spruce sprout products
Spruce sprouts have a fresh and minty flavour. At the Mansikki Children’s Agricultural Fair in 2019, more than 1,000 visitors tasted various ice creams and sorbets made from spruce sprouts at Luke’s stand, with the vast majority enjoying the taste. Currently, spruce sprouts are used in health and food products, such as in powders mixed with yoghurts and smoothies, as well as in ice creams, beverages, syrups, pesto, snack bars and in desserts served at restaurants. Spruce sprouts can also be used in cosmetics.
Reaching the full potential of spruce sprouts calls for access to international markets. This requires a quality system to be built in cooperation with actors in the sector, organisations and companies. A name registration should also be obtained for spruce sprouts to facilitate product exports. Luke is planning various projects to achieve these goals.
Collection only possible with the landowner’s permission
Spruce sprouts can only be collected with the landowner’s permission. The collection period is short, only three to four weeks, taking place when spruce buds open and develop. If sprouts grow too large, they will become wooden and their flavour will change. The height of spruce trees also sets challenges for collection. One of the advantages of spruce sprouts is that, compared with forest berries, their availability is relatively stable every year.