Water Properties Used to make Tomato Paste

Water has so many properties and functions which we take for granted. Ben thought of using a tomato cannery as an example to look at all the different ways water is used in the process.

Tomatoes are harvested into two big gondolas, one on each trailer. This goes back to the late sixties before tomatoes ever could be harvested into larger containers than a crate without getting all crushed. Especially the University of California - Davis (UCD) was very involved with developing varieties that would provide firmer fruit and could be harvested all at one time, instead of the time-proven method of being harvested in stages. Neither could they be plants that needed to be trellised. Ben got into the industry in 1969. By then Jack Hanna was very well known at the University and in the industry. California grows about 95% of canning tomatoes, so his research and development of varieties were mostly geared for California. New harvesters had to be developed which also was heavily researched by the UCD mechanical department. 

Ben’s father and mother came over that summer of 1969, so Ben took his dad to the fields. Being an avid photographer, his dad had his film camera with him. Yamamoto, one of the farmers Ben had contracted with, was suspicious and asked who this person was, filming during the harvest. Mechanical harvesters were still in the development stages, so it might well have been a competitor trying to take pictures of Yamamoto’s harvester. Ben assured Yamamoto that it was his father who wanted to take pictures to show in Holland. At that time tomatoes were harvested into bins which were then loaded onto a flatbed, two rows by 6 bins long.

In the 1980’s, canning-tomato varieties had been further developed and gondolas were tied onto a flatbed and pulled alongside the harvester. There were about 5-6 people on each side of the harvester, to take out green , over-ripe, and blemished, tomatoes, along with any vines that came up with the tomatoes. A truck towed two of those trailers to the cannery where they are staged. The cannery has a few tractors to take the trailers along a channel filled with water. The water is circulated in that channel, or flume. The trailers are pulled onto a tilted pad. They have a little gate on either side, which is opened and a hose of water is used to flush out the tomatoes into the flume. 

  • Water carries the tomatoes toward an elevator, where they are elevated to the next level and dropped in the second flume.
  • Tomatoes are rinsed again in that second flume. they then come onto the next elevator which drops them on a sorting belt where sorters take out any foreign material, like stems, branches, blemished tomatoes missed in the harvester, and even an occasional field-mouse scurrying its way through. After that the tomatoes fall into a crusher to make juice for further processing.
Once the tomatoes are crushed, pectin breakdown sets in, what we want to avoid because the pectin is important to maintain thickness of puree and tomato paste. Especially for puree it is very important to maintain a thick consistency, because that is how quality is measured. To avoid the breakdown, crushed tomato needs to be heated right away. The crushed tomato falls into a tank from which the juice is circulated through tubes surrounded by steam. Where doe the steam come from?
  • Water is used to make steam. The cannery has a set of boilers where steam is created from water. Water is pumped through tubes surrounded by burners, lit by gas or oil. The water gets super hot and turns into steam which is then piped to wherever it is needed; “hot-breaks”, as the tanks are called for the crushed fruit, is one of those places.
Tomatoes consist for 95% out of water. To make tomato puree and paste, the 5% solids of a tomato is concentrated to 12.5% or 24% solids. 
  • Water is evaporated. This can be done several ways. You can crush tomatoes, then let them cook on a stove until enough water is evaporated in the form of steam. This takes a lot of time and reduces the quality of the puree or paste dramatically, plus the color will get very dark. Professionally it is done under vacuum. That way water will evaporate at a much lower temperature. To create a vacuum, steam is used to "suck out" air from a vessel and the tomato mass will evaporate water at a much lower temperature.

The tomato paste is sterile enough, but the can it is put in, is not. The paste would soon spoil. 

  • Water, in the form of steam will sterilize the can and tomato paste. When the paste is put into the can and sealed, the can passes through a sterilizer which consists of a wide slow-moving metal chain belt going through a box with steam injection. The heat creates a vacuum in the can, so a can of tomato paste has a shelf life of more than a year.

                                        CAN YOU THINK OF MORE WAYS WATER IS USED?

They know who they are

Roland visited his brother, Ben, in California. Roland was making this an “American” trip, in which he included several locations. His first was with Ben and his family. Ben lived just west of Sacramento, and planned a camping trip with his brother to see some sights. He also took the little Sunfish sailboat along, on a trailer behind the car.

Ben had trained his kids how to sail on Folsom Lake north-east of Sacramento, in the ’80’s, when the lake still was full. He taught them what to do if the boat tipped. Trying to tip the boat on purpose turned out not to be that easy. But they succeeded, and gradually lost track of the mast as it slowly turned up-side down submerging in the water, and the hull sticking up. They had to turn the boat, so that the front would be facing the wind, because once they managed to get the mast up again, the wind would be caught in the sail and they did not want to try to tilt up the boat against the wind.

One place Roland and Ben ended up was at Lake Tahoe. This is a very deep lake up in the Sierra Nevada with half of the lake in California and half in the state of Nevada. It is a very well known lake, especially in the winter when it becomes a ski heaven. The winter Olympics have been held there. They launched the boat, but became aware very soon that even at the end of May, the water is still extremely cold. In the sailboat, it was nice, basking in the sun, but you did not want to tip over and end up in the cold water! Neither of them were afraid of tipping over, but the cold water did not attract them to even think about it.

Here they were, Roland and his brother Ben sailing on Lake Tahoe, in a nice breeze with the mountains surrounding them. It was a great day. That afternoon they found a campsite, did their cooking, and had a nice evening by a campfire. They traveled Highway 395 along the Sierra Nevada ridge and found multiple, nice campgrounds.

From California, Roland went to New Orleans. He was especially interested in seeing the results of hurricane Katrina. With his education in dike and dam construction, he wanted to compare the damage done there, in comparison to the 1953 flood in Holland. Not only the physical damage done, but the influence of politics and culture caught his attention. He realized his prejudice as to how the Dutch took care of floods, versus Americans. After all, he knew the background of how the Dutch try to control water, but really not so much about the background in America. He realized that his description about the 1953 flood would appear far more descriptive and fascinating that his description about Katrina, by comparison.
Roland figured he should ask Ben about American culture, since Ben emigrated to California about 25 years ago. What was the culture like in New Orleans? What background should Roland include? In Holland, he knew that protection was so critical, because ⅓ of the country would be under water.

Even Ben had trouble helping! He lived in California. He had read about Katrina, but it was somewhat removed from California, to really understand it. After all, California had its flooding, but that was nothing compared to New Orleans. California dealt more with drought. Even seeing the news about Katrina, or flooding in the Mid-West, did not quite resonate. People in the Mid-West are scared stiff thinking about all the earthquakes in California…! Ben was more afraid of hurricanes he would have to face if he lived in the Mid-West.

It is a challenge to write a story about flooding and drought in different countries, even in different states within a country, and be balanced on both sides of your story. You have to know who you are, to identify your prejudices.

Are you prejudiced about the functions and uses of water?


Roland realized that he knew far more about the 1953 flood in Holland than the 2005 Katrina flood in New Orleans. Of course he was born and raised in Holland so could identify very well with the culture, history, and language of Holland. He probably has preconceived ideas which he may not be aware of. As he delved into reviewing the 1953 flood, he realized that he could identify very easily with the different aspects, even if in unwritten form. He could not do that with the Katrina flood details. Would he have to go back even to the days of slavery to get a picture of the history in context with that flood? Would he give more credence to what happened in 1953 than the 2005 Katrina flood?

If Roland had lived all his life just in Holland that might have been the case, but as a youth he lived in Indonesia and Venezuela. He finished high school and college back in Holland and spent several years in Bangladesh as an engineer. It is also a delta like Holland and Alabama. Roland had a pretty good idea how to balance the consequences of flooding and the cultural plus historical differences.

     Bangladesh is a country riddled with side arms of the  Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers. 
                                  It is low-lying and thus very accessible to flooding.

When we read books about certain states and countries, or subjects, we assume the author is familiar with those areas geographically and historically, which may not necessarily be true. An author can write much more elaborate about areas or subjects he or she knows very well, but leave out details when writing about other areas on the same subject. Thus it might appear that one area is more attractive or better prepared for conditions such as flooding, just from the description. That in turn can result in cynicism, and an “us” and “them” way of thinking. “We” can do it better than “they”.

The Dutch knew very well where the weak spots were, in 1953. They were much more concerned about Rotterdam getting flooded, than The Hague or Amsterdam. They had predictions as to which dikes could break and not worry about it because the water had to go somewhere, and which were the important dikes to save. Same with the New Orleans flood. The National Geographic ran an article about two years before  the flood, suggesting what could happen and where, in the event of a hurricane. It happened exactly as predicted! (Swain, Christopher. "Then & There." National Geographic Adventure (September 2002), 42-3.)

Each of us comes with a set of assumptions and prejudices, some of which we may not be aware. From there the challenge when comparing topics among different countries. Who is the author? What might he / she favor in one country over another?

  Can you relate to something you read and assumed the author had a balanced view point?


Green portions were flooded  (from: de Deltawerken by Hilde de Haan and Ids Haagsma)

Interesting how certain dates or weather patterns will trigger our minds towards the same subject. For example: 9/11 is all I need to say and everyone will know what I’m talking about. Or Katrina, and you all will know I’m talking about the 2005 flood in New Orleans.

1953 is another such trigger, but not for Americans. After Roland had been on vacation in New Orleans and kind of cynically concluded that much of the flooding could either have been contained or construction of subdivisions should not have taken place in certain areas in the first place, he was wondering how the flood in Holland, in 1953 could have been better contained. In other words, Roland kind of presumed that the Dutch were much better at containing the water threats than the Americans. He started with 1953, a date to which every Dutchman can relate, either from experience or the history books in school if he or she did not exist yet in 1953.

Roland himself was about eight years old when that flood on February 1, 1953 took place, but he did not live in Holland at that time. His family had just moved to Venezuela, where his dad was assigned to help direct making Heineken beer. When his family heard about the flood, it was dramatic, but Roland could not exactly visualize it.

After returning to Holland where Roland finished high school and got his engineering degree in water management, specifically about dam construction, he got a better idea about that fateful February 1, 1953 flood. After his vacation to New Orleans recently, he realized that he could relate much better to the 1953 flood, because it was in the country where he was born and raised part of his life; maybe a bit prejudiced? 

New Orleans is also at the mouth of a delta, the Mississippi, just as most of Holland forms the delta of the Rhine and Maas rivers. Roland knew the history of this Dutch delta from his school days. That history goes back to the 1200’s. Since then, documentation about water management had become pretty good. The urgency to maintain control of water is much higher in Holland than around the Mississippi river, because without the dikes and dunes 50% of the country would be under water. Amsterdam would not even exist. Rotterdam would never have been the largest harbor in the world between 1964-2004. About 65% of the Dutch population lives in that below-sea-level area of the country.

Much of the flooded area from Katrina was inhabited for a large part by the poorer black population and only involved a small % of the state. Roland realized that floods were not just a matter of engineering to prevent or manage them, but included political, historical, economic, and cultural issues as well. 

No dikes, no Amsterdam

About half of Holland lies below the sea level. Cities like Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Volendam, and many more would not exist. That is where more than half of the Dutch population lives!

Rotterdam served as the largest port in the world for 42-years between 1962 and 2004 before it was surpassed by Singapore and Shanghai, in that order. The Rotterdam port is the largest port in the whole of Europe. (AUGUST 11, 2011 BY MI NEWS NETWORK)

After Roland returned from New Orleans, he was determined to go back in history and see how the Dutch fared all those years. Since 1200, the documentation about flooding became more reliable. Every history book mentions the St Elizabeth flood of Nov.18-19, 1421 which formed the Biesbosch; a miriad of water flows among the little islands formed where the Rhine and Maas rivers come together before it all flows out to sea. More floods followed in 1530, 1570, 1574 when dikes were purposely broken to keep the Spaniards from reaching Leiden. In 1775 another one, which created describing meteorological factors in connection with the flood. Others in 1808, 1825, 1894, 1906, 1916, 1944 when Walcheren was bombarded, and the latest flood in 1953.
(from: of Dikes and Windmills, by Peter Spier)

Roland finally got the whole story together about the moon and its correlation to the tides. He knew the basics but did not realize the total effect it had on the Dutch fight against the water. Every 24 hours and 50 minutes the sea level rises and recedes twice into high tide and low tide. This is influenced by the magnetic force of the sun, but even more so by that of the moon. This is the strongest with full moon and new moon, when the sun and the moon are in alignment, and pull simultaneously so high tide is extremely high. That is why there is an extreme high tide and extreme low tide every 14 days. Even the tide differences vary by location. Thus the difference between high tide and low tide in the South-West can be as much as 9 ft., while in the North (Den Helder) it is only 3 ft. It all depends on how much “space” / how deep it is, for water to go. Also the wind can influence the water levels independent from the tides. A Wester storm can really make the water go higher and an East wind will do the opposite.

And that is what happened that fateful day of February 1, 1953!

Roland was almost 9 years old, then, and had left Holland with his family to live in Venezuela, so age plus distance made it difficult for him to visualize the extend of damage done. It was not until the 1970’s when Roland became part of the solution as an engineer fresh out of college, assisting with the Delta Plan to strengthen the dam and dike system in Zeeland and Zuid-Holland provinces, that he started to see the effect.